The Christmas lights are up, the city of London is shimmering and people are smiling with festive joy. Right? Bah Humbug!
With every Christmas comes the miserable old miser Scrooge. We all know one… whether it’s your boss, your grump of a grandfather or the scowling man on the tube. Some people just can’t help but follow Charles Dickens’ example.
One person with true ‘Scrooge-it is’ is Andrew MacBean, the actor taking on the role of Ebenezer himself in the latest stage adaptation of A Christmas Carol. The Horla production uses mime, physical theatre and live music to emphasise the darker aspects of the tale. It’s set to send a chill down even the most resilient of spines. If elves in skirts and fat jolly Santas are NOT your thing, then maybe this is the Christmas outing for you – and the sprogs.
I met with main man Andrew MacBean recently and chatted with him about all things Humbug. Between you and me, it looks as though his new puppy rules his heart and his abode. He may be a softie with his pooch, but this is one man that looks set to freeze audiences with the icy persona of Scrooge. Like the character, Andrew is no stranger to turning points in life. Leaving an established business career to take on acting school was just one such decision. Lucky for us, it looks like it was a risk worth taking.
1. Most people know the story of Scrooge but can you sum up A Christmas Carol for the punters out there?
It’s a story of a man who has reached middle age and has remained single. He has slowly but surely throughout his life, distanced everybody from him and has become more and more isolated, mean and more and more unhappy. All of a sudden, one Christmas Eve, his dead ex business partner Jacob Marley, visits him and tells him that he’s giving him the chance to change his ways. He says he’s going to send Scrooge three different ghosts who are going to help him by taking him on journeys – to help him realise what his life has been, what his life is now and what his life could be unless he mends his ways.
2. Is this a play specifically for children or will adults find it entertaining too?
I think they will because the story of a person finding a different approach to life is a lesson we can all learn from. We can all change the way we live our lives and the way people see us and treat us. I think there’s a good message there. It’s an exciting and interesting story with a lot of typically Dickensian characters – round, robust and jovial. It’s a family show that really will span the generations.
3. You play the role of Scrooge, he’s a grumpy old sod to say the least. What techniques do you use to get into character?
All my friends say that I was made to play it… so that probably means they think I’m a grumpy old sod now! But, I think you need to figure out in your mind why someone is like that. I’ve tried to work out why he is the way he is – isolated, grumpy and mean and then to believe in that myself.
4. I saw the musical Scrooge a few weeks ago, starring Tommy Steele – have you been to see it or do you prefer to let your character evolve yourself – without seeing the way others portray him?
I haven’t seen it… I am quite happy to see others but just haven’t got around to seeing that one. In fact, I’ve never even seen any of the films of A Christmas Carol. Not by design, just by accident. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of copying you know. I’ve been watching Bleak House recently because it’s set in the same period and it’s really interesting. You see little details, what the actors are doing or how the story is being told and you think, “Oh, that’s a good idea… I could use that”.
In the end, the character comes from the individual actor and you know, Tommy Steele isn’t me and I’m not Tommy Steele so we’ll both find our own ways into the character and how to present him.
5. The musical was actually very dark in places and scared the wits out of me – are there any chilly moments in the Horla production?
There are very chilling moments, I mean Scrooge goes on a very scary journey. The other day we went on a Jack the Ripper walk in the East End and we were walking down streets that were really very dark. The guide was explaining to us how the light would have been in Victorian times. There wouldn’t have been much artificial light like street lighting and the back streets wouldn’t have had any at all – it’s scary. The opening scene is the funeral of Jacob Marley and Scrooge goes off to the tavern. He then heads back to his house and sees the ghost of Jacob Marley for the first time. He’s walking through absolutely black streets, possibly unpaved, it’s cold – just imagine that scenario… and then hearing a voice calling your name. It’s a scary part of the story and we do try to present that as a real event.
6. Have you had any young audience members in yet to give you a verdict on how the show looks so far?
As we move on and start running the show we’ll get some people in and there’ll be some young people to give us their verdict. That’s what’s great about doing a show for a family audience – you’re playing to people who don’t go to the theatre every day of the week, maybe just once or twice a year. The magic that you can create on that stage is quite special in a way.
We’ll be performing in quite small spaces so we’ll see the audiences really clearly and you can tell if an eight year old is bored or if they’re engrossed in the story. From my personal point of view, if they are engrossed it gives you a hell of a boost. It’s great.
7. You’ve got an impressive history – you trained at the Bristol Old Vic from 2000 to 2002. Did you always know you wanted to be an actor?
I’ve always been interested in theatre and I’ve always wanted to act. I didn’t for a long time – I pursued a career in business and was travelling a lot so it really wasn’t possible to do much amateur work much. But, I’d always wanted to do it and in my early forties I was bored with what I was doing and was looking for a change. I literally just woke up one morning and thought; “I need to be a bit more radical in my thinking because I’ve got another 20 – 30 years of work in front of me, what do I want to do with it? This is my only chance”
I just decided then and there that I was going to apply to drama school and try to become an actor. I had to give twelve months notice for my job so I went in that very morning and gave in my notice. Then I started to apply to drama school and it all became a bit of a reality.
I’ve now been an actor for three and a half years and I don’t regret it at all – it’s been a wonderful life change and an exciting career so far.
8. I’ve noticed that a number of your on stage parts (and there are many!) seem to have a sinister side… do you enjoy playing the bad guy?
I do, I really enjoy it. I had a reputation at drama school for only ever playing priests! As soon people knew we were doing a play with a vicar in it they used to joke that he was what I would get cast as. They weren’t such bad parts but since I left drama school I’ve played some pretty bad characters. I played the part of Killer Joe in Bristol and he was an appalling man. He was the sheriff of a town but was also a hired murderer. It’s quite interesting to try to understand what motivates someone to be really bad.
9. You’ve also done a lot of on screen work with BBC, ITV, HTV and CITV. Do you have a preference for TV or live on stage?
I go back and forth on these. I really like the thing I’m doing at the time because it’s so engrossing. I’m doing more theatre than I do television and when you do a theatre job it takes three or four weeks of rehearsal and then five to seven weeks playing so it takes up a lot of your life. It’s quite nice to mix it with a bit of television where you get a part, you go down to the studio, shoot for a day or so and then it’s all over and done with. I like having the mix but if I were going to have to choose one for the rest of my life, I would probably have to choose the theatre.
10. Do you have any advice for aspiring young performers?
Well, my advice to somebody who thinks they want to become an actor is – if there’s anything else that you want to do, I would suggest that you do that. It’s not a career for the faint hearted. It’s tough getting work but even then, when you’ve got the work, you’ve got to work phenomenally hard. If this isn’t a job and a life that you want more than anything else, don’t do it.
If you do decide to be an actor then you have to completely throw yourself into it. To me, it’s fantastically rewarding, it’s great fun… you work with extremely interesting and exciting individuals – some of them can be very annoying at times because you’re working at a very close proximity. You can drive each other mad but at the end you come out with some really extraordinary times and great results.
Acting is seen as a very fluffy sort of existence but so far my experience is very far from that. It’s a tough life – you have to work hard at it but it is rewarding.
11. I guess criticism can be hard to deal with too…
Personally, I try not to really look at the reviews, I find them very confusing – whether they are good or they’re bad. If a reviewer says “I really liked it when he did that”, every time I get to that point in the play it’s in my head that somebody has commented on that. It’s difficult to ignore it. I’m not sure that it’s particularly constructive. I think reviews are designed for directors, producers and the audience. If there’s something an actor is doing that is wrong or isn’t working then it’s up to the director to resolve it.
12. Where to from now – what would be your dream role?
I really don’t have a dream role so I don’t have a plan. What I really like about acting is that you wake up one morning and there’s a phone call from your agent to say there’s an exciting audition to go to and that every day is different. You just don’t know what’s around the corner.
The thing that matters at the moment is getting A Christmas Carol right and what happens after the 7th of January – who knows.
A Christmas Carol takes to the stage at:
New Wimbledon Studio
6th – 7th December 2005
Trafalgar Studio 2
20th December 2005 – 7th January 2006
Suitable for children of 6+ and brave adults.