Milly Hutchinson interviews London Theatre Award nominee and Winner of Best Performer in Theatre, James Hyland, as he celebrates the Bicentenary of Charles Dickens’ birth with his acclaimed stage adaptation, ‘Fagin’s Last Hour‘ at the Michael Croft Theatre on 19 May.
He talks about Charles Dickens, receiving his Commendation from Her Majesty The Queen, his time at Alleyn’s School, his current London Theatre Award nomination, his ground-breaking productions, and working with Grime artist, Tinie Tempah.
Best Performer in Theatre Award
The last few years have been something of a whirlwind. Last December, I completed the third consecutive tour of my critically acclaimed one-man show ‘A Christmas Carol – As told by Jacob Marley (deceased)‘. The reaction to it has been astounding, culminating with last year’s record-breaking performance at The Stephen Joseph Theatre and winning the award for ‘Best Performer in Theatre’. It is currently in competition with ‘Matilda The Musical‘ (winner of 7 Olivier Awards) for ‘The London Theatre Award‘. This is a great honour for me as the award recognises an artist or performer who has made an outstanding contribution to their art form. The London Theatre Award will be announced on Wednesday 20th June and you can see details of the nominations here http://londonfestivalfringe.com/general/2012nominations/awards/theatre/?award=theatre.
A Commendation from Her Majesty The Queen
Last month, I was delighted to receive a Commendation from Her Majesty The Queen for my Dickensian adaptations: ‘Hard Times’, ‘A Christmas Carol – As told by Jacob Marley (deceased)’, and ‘Fagin’s Last Hour’. The Commendation was received by way of an invitation to Buckingham Palace to mark the Bicentenary of the birth of Charles Dickens. I had the privilege to meet The Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh, The Duke of Gloucester, Princess Alexandra The Honourable Lady Ogilvy, and The Duke of Kent who took great interest in ‘Fagin’s Last Hour’ which we discussed for a greater part of the evening. To be recognised for my work by The Queen has been a highlight of my career and to spend time in her company alongside her family at Buckingham Palace was a very great honour.
The Bicentenary of Charles Dickens
Touring the world with ‘Fagin’s Last Hour’ during the Bicentenary of Charles Dickens is also exceptionally meaningful to me. I have always adored Dickens’ works, having read many of his novels repeatedly over the years.
He is, in my opinion, our greatest author and to celebrate him in this way is not only fulfilling to me as an actor and a writer but is also a way of connecting with the spirit of the man, being as he was a remarkable storyteller as both a novelist as well as as an actor of one-man shows , the most famous of which were his performances of ‘A Christmas Carol’ and ‘Sikes and Nancy’ from ‘Oliver Twist’. Based on the latter novel and inspired by its most unnerving chapter, ‘Fagin’s Last Night Alive’, I have chosen to tell the story of ‘Oliver Twist’ through the words of literature’s most controversial villain, Fagin the Miser, one hour prior to his execution, condemned to death by the societal laws that created him; in order to lend poignancy to its uncompromising truth, that the order of the civilized, and the principles therein diffused, must be held accountable for the devils it seeks to purge.
Confined to workhouses, starved, and mistreated, the poor had no way of redeeming themselves from misery and death except by running away or turning criminal. Should then the judgment of Fagin be confined to his crimes or should the blame be shouldered upon the injustices of the Poor Law? As a dedicated socialist, the treatment of the poor held tremendous concern for Dickens, and his stories resonate with issues that have continued to hold great significance even in today’s climate.
The subject of capital punishment is no less relevant. Sister Helen Prejean, a long-time campaigner against the death penalty, can recite every argument against its usage: It’s immoral; it’s reserved for the poor; it’s racially selective; it’s a political decoy. “Basically, it’s an act of despair,” she says. “It’s society saying we don’t know what to do with some people – and when you don’t know what to do with some people, it’s okay to kill them.”
Aside from Charles Dickens, I have also been working with Brit award-winning Grime artist, Tinie Tempah, on his short film/music video, ‘Disappoint You’, in which I play the lead role of a nasty cop and also serve as writer of the dialogue. The video has recently won ‘Best Urban Video’ at the UK Music Video Awards and has also been nominated for ‘Best Music Video’ at The London Independent Film Festival. Described by the press as “one of the best short films, not to mention best music videos, ever made”, the film has been hailed by industry executives as the must-see video of 2012.
You can watch ‘Disappoint You’ here:
Alleyn’s and The Michael Croft Theatre
My teachers at Alleyn’s were a great inspiration to me and offered terrific support throughout my seven years in attendance. In particular, my Theatre Studies teacher, Eileen Chivers, and my English teacher, Paul Kingman, will always be remembered with thanks and respect, as well as the Head Master, Derek Fenner, and Michael Croft himself of whose National Youth Theatre I was a proud member. I very much look forward to coming back to Alleyn’s and performing ‘Fagin’s Last Hour’ at The Michael Croft Theatre on 19th May. In many ways it will be like returning home again.
You can find out more about Fagin’s Last Hour here http://faginslasthour.moonfruit.com/.
Fagin’s Last Hour comes to the Michael Croft Theatre in Dulwich on Saturday 19 May at 7.30pm. Tickets are £14 (£8 concessions) and you can book tickets at www.michaelcrofttheatre.org.uk.