Duston Players are taking on one of their most adventurous productions ever at the end of November; a unique adaptation of Blackadder’s Christmas Carol. With just two weeks until the show, we cornered stars James Burgess (Ebenezer Blackadder) and Lou Chawner (Baldrick) for a quick chat…
You’ve only got 2 weeks to go now until the show – how have rehearsals been going?
James: Oh crikey, is that all? I can name a couple who are still clutching their scripts! The rehearsals are going better than ever now – I think the closing deadlines are chivvying people along… But we’ve got a real positive atmosphere about the whole thing, so I’m not worried at all.
Lou: I think they’ve been going very well actually, we are almost there now. About 3 weeks ago, I felt I was ready to go and wanted to do the shows then. But since then, it’s got even better and really gone up another level. We are seeing progress every rehearsal with pace, lines, timing, little character developments, so it is all fitting together very nicely.
What inspired you to audition for this production?
James: When I heard the next production was going to be Blackadder, I was thrilled. The show is one of the funniest and most unique comedies of all time because they mix wonderful wordplay and hilarious situations that could only happen in a historical setting. I had just finished playing a villain in another show and was desperate to find a more complex character to show my versatility.
Lou: Well, I’ve always been a massive Blackadder fan, and I’ve always enjoyed making a room full of people laugh. So the chance to make a room full of people laugh at a Blackadder production was too good to miss out on…
James, you get to play two different sides to Blackadder – has that been fun?
James: This is something friends and family ask quite a bit- but I think they’ve got it wrong. It’s not really a good and a bad side- more ‘incomplete vs whole’ because he’s perfectly capable of mischief from the outset but needs the confidence to draw the line. The key is the choice he makes, to stand his ground. As such, I feel much happier playing a mean Blackadder, because as malicious and childish as he is at least those equally villainous spongers get put in their places… Plus punching Baldrick is fun!
Has it been daunting taking on such well-known characters?
James: Daunting doesn’t even begin to cover it. If my acting sucks, then the rest of the scene falls flat… And I’m on stage in every scene! I’m too young for the part, heaven knows how I’ll make myself up older- but I’ve been studying Atkinson’s performances daily and recording myself in an effort to deliver the lines as he does. Lou is spot on in both age and appearance, so I’m hoping that between us we can pull off a convincing double act, and the audience can forget that we’re not the real thing for two hours.
Lou: Not really for me, mainly because it’s been so much fun! I did think that it could be though. There have been many brilliant and iconic British sitcoms over the years, with many highly memorable characters. You can run off a massive list, Fawlty Towers, Porridge, Fools and Horses, Steptoe, Ab Fab, the list goes on and on, and all of them have outstanding and memorable characters. Blackadder stands right up there with the very best of them, so if you are worried about people comparing your version of the character to that of the TV series then I guess it could be daunting… I guess it is a bit like when a band does a cover version of one of your favourite songs. I’m always interested to hear it but if they don’t do it justice I’ll judge them quite badly. So I think that the best way to look at it is just do it to the best you can, have fun with it, and as long as you’re happy with it yourself then that’s all that ultimately matters.
Lou, you’ve got one or two costume changes to deal with…
Lou: Erm, 9 or 10 actually! I think… I hope… it will be fine though? Probably. I’ll need to be organised for a change! Some of the costume changes are really fast too, so some Full Monty style trouser whipping off might be needed. We have such a good backstage team though I’m pretty confident it’ll run smoothly.
Have you got favourite props from the show?
Lou: Well, the squeaky turkey has been funny in rehearsals, but we won’t be using it in the actual show. Seriously, watching a room full of adults laugh like loons during rehearsals just because someone accidentally squeezed the turkey is so funny to see. I’ve been told, probably for the best, that I’m not allowed the nipple tassels! Don’t ask, you will probably regret it! So I guess as my favourite prop I would have to go for the crackers. A simple prop, with a second very cleverly designed and authentic looking prop inside it, and I use it during one of my favourite bits of the show.
James: The shop counter is our symbol of home, everything we own seems to be behind it. Including Baldrick’s Christmas stocking which I was quite proud of- handspun wool, knitted in a day and dyed all manner of manky colours. I’ve also had the chance to make a fibreglass turkey, a classic phaser and an enormous Christmas pudding. What other show would include such a fantastic and random mix?
Who in the show is most like their character in real life?
Lou: Well, Baldrick is a long-haired, scruffy idiot. So definitely not me. Obvs. It might be a bit mean to liken anyone to their character really. As great as each character is, they all have serious flaws, be it stupidity, arrogance, ignorance, or something else, and as we all know, no one who has ever been involved in the theatre has ever had any character flaws. Ever… Vocally, both Becki (Queen Victoria) and Bex (Queenie) have absolutely nailed their characters voices, but I wouldn’t say that they’re like them in real life for fear of reprisal, in the form of a slap…
James: I think we all bring a lot of ourselves to the characters because the Duston Players is packed with so many funny people. Even my sister playing Mrs Scratchit (Emma Burgess), she has about three minutes on stage but completely steals it when it’s her turn. I’d say probably John Myhill as the Spirit of Christmas, because they both turn up around Christmas time, thrust a show upon us and make silly noises while we try and act out their vision.
Is there anything about the show that will surprise the audience?
Lou: If they don’t already know the show, then yes. There is one particular scene that will probably be quite unexpected, but I don’t want to spoil it… If they do already know the show, then they will have an idea of what to expect and just how good it is. However, the quality of the arranged and original material I think will be a nice treat for them.
James: There’s plenty in there to surprise the audience, partly the amazing value for money, but also we’ve been lucky enough to have some brand new scenes written in for us by John Myhill. We can’t record it, so this will be your only chance to see NEW approved Blackadder material since the great saga ended. Plus the live crocodiles and helicopter chase scenes are guaranteed to surprise you…
And lastly, who is your favourite Blackadder character from across the TV series?
Lou: Flashheart, without a doubt. I know there are so many strong characters, and I know that he is only in a couple of episodes, but every time he is on screen he completely steals and owns it. He crashes into the show, punches a few people, insults nearly everyone, flirts with nearly everyone else, wins the day, and then brags about how great he is. I think we could all take a leaf out of his book. Rik Mayall was a brilliant, and much, much-missed genius.
James: My all time favourite is Ebenezer Blackadder, which is why I’m so excited to have been chosen for the role. It’s a fun spin on the familiar character and has become something of a Christmas staple. He’s kind and generous to the sick, he’d never spread a nasty rumour. He never gets on people’s wick… And doesn’t laugh at toilet humour!
Blackadder’s Christmas Carol runs from 29th November to 2nd December 2017 at Duston Community Centre, NN5 6DT. Tickets are available here (booking fees apply) or you can reserve them through the Box Office on 07766 442279