Ghost Stories for Christmas comprises Swanton’s alternating solo renditions of A Christmas Carol, The Chimes and The Haunted Man. The show will play select dates in York from 29 November to 20 December before fleeing like Scrooge in his nightie-clad glee to London’s Charles Dickens Museum in the run-up to Christmas.
Known for all things classical, spooky and grotesque, Swanton’s Dickensian theatre work is highly acclaimed, with high praise from the likes of Simon Callow – describing his West End show Sikes & Nancy as “startling and enthralling” – and Miriam Margolyes, calling his performances at the Dickens Museum “extraordinary” and “superb”.
“I’m delighted to once again be acting in my home city of York,” Swanton says. “I’ve never given more performances of A Christmas Carol than this year – eight alone in York! – and I’m greatly looking forward to all of them, as they’re reliably cheerful experiences at what’s often the most stressful time of the year.
“However, the two lesser-known stories, The Chimes and The Haunted Man, are also very suited to our times. The former is absolutely hilarious, yet it overbrims with anger at the injustices done to the least fortunate in society; The Haunted Man is a chilling supernatural tale but also a portrait of a man struggling with his mental health. These subjects have been much on our minds in recent years – and Dickens attacks them in a fashion that’s not only powerful but intensely hopeful.
“A Christmas Carol, of course, is one of the greatest things ever written. I’ve found there’s little that’s more rewarding to perform as an actor. And there’s certainly no story that audiences are more eager to hear to the end.” These intimate, lantern-lit shows take place within the dark wooden surrounds of the hidden gem that is the York Medical Society building off Stonegate; a seasonal Narnia for those who know where to look, and a uniquely cockle-warming way to spend an hour of your winter evening. Whether you’re looking for a special event to garnish a date night, a family outing or an end-of-year work social, Ghost Stories for Christmas is the perfect treat to reignite compassion for your fellow man and escape the nihilism of these divided times.
Despite the successful run of Ghost Stories for Christmas last December, Swanton hasn’t been seen on a York stage this year. “Although the world’s opening up and the theatre’s getting back to normal, 2022 has been a year of film work – horror film work, specifically, which is what happens when you have a face like mine. I’ve therefore been away from York in the likes of the Netherlands, Serbia and Italy. I was even whisked to LA for a mad couple of days.”
One of these cinematic productions that he’s allowed to tell us about is a filmed version of The Haunted Man, streaming on the Charles Dickens Museum website on 4 December, providing a viable alternative for those still hesitant about attending live shows. (In which case, “shutter up the windows, dim the candles, and settle by the fire…”) “In any case,” James says, “I look forward to gathering people together for an hour of truly heart-warming storytelling. God knows we need it.”
Ghost Stories for Christmas runs from 29 November to 20 December at York Medical Society on Stonegate. A Christmas Carol will be performed on 29 November and 1, 5, 6, 7, 12, 19 and 20 December; The Haunted Man is 30 November and 10 December; The Chimes is 8 and 13 December. All performances start at 7pm and last approximately one hour.
Tickets are available now, and selling like hot mince pies, from York Theatre Royal box office. The best availability is toward the start of the run. Tickets are £14 per person or £7 concessions.
For full information and to book your tickets, visit York Theatre Royal box office, in person or online at www.yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.