Theatre time at the bar in Dickens pub crawlBy Oliver Florence
December 14, 2012
VISIONS of spooky spectres, a spontaneous outbreak of dancing and a man sobbing uncontrollably in the corner could all be explained away at this time of year in a pub thanks to a touch of over-indulgence with the Christmas eggnog.
But venture into some of Guildford’s town centre watering holes this festive season and the explanation is likely to be very different, as a theatrical performance of A Christmas Carol is brought to a new audience.
The adaptation, by All The World’s A Stage theatre group, combines the traditional Yuletide tale with a tour of three pubs – giving audience members a chance to keep themselves refreshed as the drama unfolds.
Jessica Nunn, a member of the cast of just six, adapted the production from the Charles Dickens story of Ebenezer Scrooge’s journey from miser to merrymaker.
Having already directed two shows at The Star Inn, in Quarry Street, Jessica saw a tour round the town’s hostelries as the next step.
“Pub theatre is not a new idea – there are several pubs in London that do theatre on a regular basis,” she said.
“But we liked the idea of doing shows in a smaller, cheaper venue and opening it up to people who might not normally come to the theatre.
"I came up with the idea as I’d really enjoyed a musical pub crawl I’d been on in Dublin and it seemed like a natural progression.
"I think Dickens would love the idea of what we’re doing. After all, he was writing serial pieces for the newspaper. I think he’d like the idea of the story going back out on the streets.”
A Christmas Carol: Pub Crawl starts at the Surrey Scholar statue at the bottom of the High Street before moving to the atmospheric surroundings of St Mary’s churchyard.
It is not long before the rattle of chains announces the arrival of the first ghost, Jacob Marley, who sets the scene for the forthcoming adventure.
From there, accompanied by a few odd looks from passers-by, the plodding Marley leads the short walk up the hill to The Keep, where audience members get their first opportunity to indulge in a beverage at the bar.
The pub has been transformed into the office of Scrooge, played by Steve Griffin, and the crawl participants are literally brought into the production with the first audience cameo, as an unsuspecting member is asked to approach the boss man himself.
“Doing a pub crawl like this, with an interactive audience, is always going to be fraught with unknowns,” Jessica said.
“For instance, it’s difficult to know, in rehearsals, how long the show will last as you don’t know how slow audiences will move around, or how long it will take people to get drinks.
“Nor do you know how an audience will react when you hand them lines and bring them on stage.
“The logistics of moving costumes and props from place to place has also been an adventure. We’re a cast of six, playing multiple roles, and all of our costumes and props have to move with us.
"We’ve been very lucky so far though that none of our problems have been as big as we anticipated.”
From the first pub the tale moves on to Pews and The Star, with ghosts popping up on the way, before returning to a genuinely eerie scene in the church grounds – the backdrop of Debenhams failing to spoil the feel of Dickensian London.
For the final act it is back to The Keep and a well-deserved sit down for the audience after the amble through town and an active role in the spectacle.
Some of the most memorable parts of the evening are the reactions of the public to the drama, with one couple getting quite a fright when they are greeted with a cry of "bah humbug" just at the moment they enter the pub for a quiet drink.
“The reaction from passers-by has been fun to watch and there is a great opportunity to advertise,” Jessica said.
“One night while I was waiting for any last minute audience, standing by the Surrey Scholar in my costume, someone did ask if I was a ghost. I gave him a flyer. Maybe he’ll come and see the show.”
For All The World’s A Stage, itself formed in a pub several years ago, attention is already turning to the next big unconventional theatre project.
A cabaret show is planned for the Merry Harriers in Hambledon in the new year, with a pub crawl based on The Canterbury Tales set to hit the streets in the spring.
As for this festive season, there is still time for the tale of the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future to cause a stir, with the production running every Monday and Wednesday at 7.30pm, until next Wednesday (December 19). Tickets cost £10.