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Cheers not tiers as RSC broadcasts festive show

On Saturday night Erica Whyman directs Festive Tales, a programme of music, plays and poetry, which will be livestreamed from the RST. With snatches of RSC productions past, including extracts from and The Christmas Truce, it promises to be joyous and reflective, she tells Gill Sutherland.
It will be available all week. Find out more

Tell me about the festive tales program and how it has come together?

I feel very lucky that in this terrible year I'm getting to direct something that is really Christmassy.
It was our thinking that if we were going to do a program story that we would do a Christmas story. The greatest stories are Christmas stories and we still tell them to each other.
We are not yet in a position to have costumes and props but actually there's a really wonderful discipline in that. We've just got our voices and our stories.
I've got a company that were going to be in The Winter's Tale and A Comedy of Errors this year including some wonderful singers. I've got a group of musicians and actors.

Erica Whyman, deputy artistic director (43580177)
Erica Whyman, deputy artistic director (43580177)

Is it a cabaret style evening?

Essentially it is a mix of a couple of celebrations of productions gone by, such as The Christmas Truce. It's such a wonderful story especially because it's a true story and it involves the Warwickshire residence it felt like a no brainer really to include that. So we'll open with three short scenes that have been abridged by Phil Porter who wrote the original production. I think it's important to say that the beginning of the evening will deliberately have moments of reflection. It's very joyous that the German and British soldiers met in no man's land and wished each other a merry Christmas. It will put a smile on your face but it's also true that they were living in a difficult time and has a lot of loss and had to adjust. We deliberately placed it at the beginning because I think this Christmas everyone will have a sense of loss. A whole complex sense of loss – the loss of productions, the loss of being able to go to the theatre, loss of jobs, and of course lives lost this year. So there will be a sense of memorial at the beginning of the show. Then it will move into a series of readings mostly poems.

Is there a piece that particular captivates it all for you?

All of them really. David Edgar has written a very special version of A Christmas Carol and even though it's a very familiar story it is particularly poignant– an elderly man who has very strong beliefs about the world is persuaded to change. It's so uplifting that someone can be taken on a difficult journey of reflection and the result id that his heart is bursting with Christmas joy. That's close to my heart and Truce is too. I would probably come down on a Maya Angelou powem. I wouldn't describe myself as religious but I've always found that there's something in the story of Christmas that gets lost in lots of our festivities. There's something about asking ourselves what our common humanity is. That poem really captures that for me. If I want people to take something from the evening it's probably that.

Is it a strange feeling being in a building that is usually full of life but isn't at the moment?

To be honest I've loved every visit I've had to the theatre. Of course I'm quite used to being there without the audience. Actually it's like getting back to our work place and getting that flavour again. What I find very moving and occasionally it will catch my breath is that there are elements of the set from The Winter's Tale still on the stage and there is all of the set for The Whip from when we closed in March. It's an emotional place to be seeing these productions left exactly how we left them. We're making use of one or two of those elements for Festive Tales. It will be much stranger when we're at the point of going live and then we'll notice the people missing but for now it's just great to get back to work.

Are you a Christmassy person?

Yeah I am a bit Christmassy. I've directed a heck of a lot of Christmas shows just one in Stratford but actually in Newcastle I directed the Christmas show every year and I loved it. I think there's something particularly joyful about audiences at Christmas and people come as a family. It's often children's first experience of the theatre and I really love that. Although this is a bit more of an adult program, there's nothing unsuitable for children but it's more of a text and music evening than big bells and whistles, I think Christmas makes children of us all. I love Christmas – you get to eat lots of wonderful food and spend time with your feet up. That's my plan!

What will your Christmas look like this year?

Well I'm really sad not to be able to see my dad. He lives quite a long way from Stratford. I'm hoping we can do a walk somewhere between us so I'll get to see him but not spend a great deal of time with him. My daughter and I and her dad will be very grateful to spend some time at home because it has been a very hectic year. We love walking around here so if the weather holds we'll go on lots of long walks. It will be a log fire, great food, and Christmas movies.

What have been the positives from the year?

This year has been awful and it's illuminated inequalities of all kinds – racial inequality and also social inequality who are not only more vulnerable to the virus but also the economic effects of the virus. I hope that we will learn some lessons from that. I'm lucky enough to work for a sector that tells stories and we might have some new stories to tell that will be positive about the heroes that have served their community during the crisis.

During the first lockdown we got actors would read poems over the phone to vulnerable and elderly people. Those actions will what will be the legacy of 2020 as well as the tough stuff.

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