IT WILL come as no surprise that a show staged by Susan Boyle’s vocal director is big on music. Working on his Royal Lyceum production of A Christmas Carol, Andrew Panton is in raptures about Claire McKenzie’s arrangements.
“She’s reworked traditional carols and songs in a very interesting score,” says the director, taking time out from his day job as associate head of musical theatre at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. “There’s something about live music in a Christmas show that’s really important. It allows you to communicate visually, through the text and through the music’s own language. Recontextualising these familiar carols is really exciting.”
But Panton has more strings to his bow than music alone. In his time, he has worked as a choreographer and movement coach, while his stints as a director include assisting on the National Theatre of Scotland’s globally celebrated Black Watch. Consequently, he promises his production of Charles Dickens’ Victorian-set classic will be an all-hands-to-the-pump piece of ensemble theatre with a strong storytelling ethos.
“It really is multifaceted,” says Panton. “The actors are playing instruments, singing and doing a lot of physical work, so it’s very integrated.”
With Auf Wiedersehen Pet star Christopher Fairbank learning his lesson as Scrooge, alongside a multitasking cast that includes Lewis Howden, John Kielty and Pauline Knowles, Panton says the adaptation by Neil Duffield (seen a few years ago at Dundee Rep) does tremendous justice to Dickens. “It’s very loyal to the original story and takes as much of the detail as it possibly can, but it keeps moving and tells it in such a way that it’s like a car chase at the end. There’s no baggage on it; it’s absolutely lean.”
For all the pace and ghostly atmosphere, the moral power of Dickens’s novel is undiminished. Panton is in no doubt of its continued appeal. “The story of a man who made mistakes, was given options and chose the wrong one and then is given this other chance to look back, reflect and make different choices has a universality of emotion,” he says. “It’s a universal story, whether it’s a Dickensian character in London or your next-door neighbour. The question of choices could not be more relevant to young people today because they’re being exposed to much more coverage of what’s happening in the world. Life is all about choice now and that’s what this piece captures.”
• A Christmas Carol, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, tomorrow until 4 January, lyceum.org.uk