West End star David Burt talks about starring in A Christmas Carol

West End star and Olivier Award nominated David Burt (Les Misérables; Evita; Cats; Jesus Christ Superstar) recreating his critically-acclaimed performance in the lead role of Ebenezer Scrooge in Antic Disposition’s much-loved musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ festive classic A Christmas Carol.

How does it feel to be returning to the iconic role of Ebenezer Scrooge?
In this production: Honored.

This is the second time you’ve reprised this role, what keeps bringing you back to work with Antic Disposition?
The venue, the company; and because with such abbreviated runs I can’t help thinking were this a West End show, we’d still be in previews. (That’s not my joke; it’s John Risebero’s.)

You’ll be working with some familiar faces from the last time the show was on, how well do you get a long with these cast members?
We’re beginning to resemble Vincent Crummles theatre troupe. For twelve months most of us remain strangers to each other – in fact this time it’s been a couple of years, as the piece wasn’t performed last Christmas. Yet we meet up again and always manage to pick up exactly where we left off as if it were yesterday. The disconcerting thing is everyone looks younger than last time. Except me of course. I just look more haggard and bemused.

How long does it take you to get back into the character of Scrooge?
A couple of rehearsals usually does it, though the fear remains that one day I’ll go looking for the old bugger and he’ll have disappeared for good.

What do you feel makes your scrooge relatable to a modern day audience?
More than ever, the same divisions of class; the same willful abuse and neglect of children; the same hiving away of personal wealth by individuals and corporations at the expense of the poor seem to prevail just as they did in Dickens’ day. Ebenezer is given the chance to see the error of his ways and thus redeem himself, but not before he’s forced to walk through fire. Perhaps one day the world will find it’s forced to do likewise.

When returning to a role after time away, do you try and keep things the same or change certain elements of your performance?
There’s a certain element of ‘if it aint broke, don’t fix it’ of course, but what’s the point of churning out an identical performance? I’ve only returned to a production once in my career. The show in question enjoyed phenomenal success in town, and later transferred over the pond to great acclaim. On its return a year or so later, I was asked if I’d like to take on a different role. I jumped at the opportunity and spent the following six months trapped in what I call ‘template theatre hell’, unable to explore or try anything new. Soul destroying. I happened to be seriously miscast too which didn’t help. Then they sacked me thank God. A blessing for all concerned!

Is there a particular scene in the play you enjoy acting in over others?
The scenes in which `Scrooge is forced to witness his past can often be quite cathartic. One can’t help thinking how one would react if given the opportunity to revisit the people and places you’ve loved and lost. How might you redress the little cruelties you meted out in life, the personal shortcomings and regrets? It can be quite overwhelming at times. But then I remember its only showbiz, and there’s always mulled wine and mince pies to stuff your face with in the interval!

How similar or dissimilar are you to the charac ter of Ebeneezer Scrooge?
As I get older, more alike I’m sad to admit! I seem to have been angry all my life; though about what exactly I couldn’t say. Just generally cross about everything! It’s much worse now, which makes me type-perfect casting for this role. I’m amazed my wife’s put up with me all these years.

What makes this particular production of A Christmas Carol different from others?
Years ago I was lucky enough to see the RSC’s Nickolas Nickelby. I never really recovered from the thrill of that experience. The narrative was 95% Dickens, and the production engaged myself (and clearly the audience) on a level I’d never experienced in theatre. The show incorporated music, theatrical slight of hand, some of the greatest ensemble work I’ve ever seen, plus the most heartfelt sense of joy and outrage ever witnessed on the West End stage. I believe Antic Disposition’s A Christmas Carol is that show in microcosm. And we have Middle Temple Hall too!

Describe how the audience will feel after watching this show in three words.
Jubilant. Emotional. Entertained.

Thanks for having Tea With Wilma

Interview by Calum McIntosh.