St John The Evangelist Church, Canton
Tuesday 12th December 2017
With the news of a homeless man in Cardiff collapsing and being taken to hospital due to the bitter cold the prior night, I paid a visit to St John’s Church in Canton. Although my mind was blackened by this horrid news, I was keen to see this production of The Chimes.
It’s not really Christmas without Dickens, or more specificity A Christmas Carol. The praise he received for the short story inspired him to create another festive fable, this being The Chimes. Tackling homelessness and poverty like he did in many other works, The Chimes is the great writer’s response to the apparent shame of the poor and how utterly absurd that suicide was billed as “illegal”.
The programme for the show featured the anonymous remarks of someone who experienced severe poverty and homelessness, the most remarkable statement was in the concluding paragraph:
Why do we treat those who have so little with such carelessness? Why is it that people who have no home can feel that they are even unworthy of the scraps that society offers them?
The Chimes is a less interesting story and this bleeds into the show itself. We might still be treated to apparitions and lessons learned on how you control your life (and how you can affect others,) but it just doesn’t have the grab Scrooge and his gang yielded. The musical numbers by Conor Linehan have some interesting chromatic chords and a few songs are fairly toe-tapping. Oliver! this ain’t, yet the musical moments can heighten the stress these characters are afflicted with.
Due to poor health, Matthew Jure would recite the lines of protagonist Trotty in the pulpit, as director Judith Roberts mimed as him in the performance space. Although this was a last minute effort to remedy a lack of an understudy, it presented a strange, Brechtian mood which is rarely seen today. A happy mistake? Most likely, yet Jure should return fully once he feels up to it. An ensemble of professional actors and amateurs (the later chosen for their own experience of homelessness) may have greatly jarred at times, but you could feel the efforts being made for this show.
Meg (played here by an emotive Lucy Benson Brown) and how she is treated by others is the focal point of the show. These ghosts present to Trotty how his daughter’s downfall is defined by his lack of action.
Here are some interesting technical features of the show: blissful pipe organ music as we entered the space and during the interval, sound work by Ian Barnard which has a habit of being very atmospheric and the addition of the chimes themselves, two sets used to reverberate around the church. Footage of current affairs and sound bites of current politicians views on the housing crisis ram home the fact little has changed over the centuries. We can put the pieces together without padded recordings which add little anyway other than to tick boxes about the relatable nature of the themes within the work.
We do get the typical large ensemble of characters which Dickens always features in his work. The actors do a good job in bringing them to life, with varying markers to indicate the change in role. Whilst some are better singers than others when a chorus they would rouse the audience.
It’s an inspiring piece, but it needs work (the performance did not feel tight enough for a press night). Homelessness is ever growing in Cardiff and we see them every day on our streets. This show makes you think there is a little sliver of hope.
The Chimes continues at St John The Evangelist Church, Cardiff till 16th December 2017, then to St John’s Church, Waterloo in London from the 19th until 30th December 2017.
Photo Credit: Chapter Arts Centre Website