James Swanton with George Potts

Acting is rarely considered a backstage position. But despite all that high-lit, ungainly exposure, the majority of an actor’s time passes in shadows: preparing, rehearsing, concocting some new theatrical alchemy.

Scrooge & Marley is my sixteenth show at Cambridge. The show came about as I hunted for a follow-up to my one-man revue Pickwick & Nickleby. As Dickens’s best-known work, A Christmas Carol seemed the obvious next choice. Something that had always bothered me in the Carol was the unresolved fate of Jacob Marley. Whilst Scrooge finds redemption, Marley, the spirit who secured it, remains damned for eternity. Exploring their partnership struck me as fascinating – particularly given that George Potts loved the story as much as I did. A cast of one became a cast of two, and our mad and merry task began.

Acting is always better done with friends. The most tremendous aspect of Cambridge theatre is the sense of community; the endless possibility of an environment stocked with people passionate about the same things as you. It needn’t be the back-biting, ambition-fuelled hell it’s sometimes made out to be. The sooner that acting is embraced as rewarding and carefree, the better.

I like to think that this sense of possibility has influenced Scrooge & Marley. It’s a character actor’s fantasy. Not only do George and I have the thrill of playing the archetypal miserable git and the archetypal chain-rattling ghost, but a sprawling mass of other beings. It’s theatre carried to its improbable upper limit: here are changes in height, weight, gender, posture, class and sanity. Underpinning and inflecting these changes are the figures of Scrooge and Marley, ever-present reminders of how much is at stake. For redemption is at the heart of the story – a vital hope for anyone acquainted with those parts of themselves that they fear can never be loved.

Acting can also be a form of redemption. As Charles Laughton used to say: ‘This is a pretty old arrangement, isn’t it? An actor and an audience.’ That’s the gift of acting – to tempt us from the shadows and confront us with humanity, in all its squalid grandeur.

Scrooge & Marley opens at the ADC Theatre on Wednesday 9th November.