Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Why James Hyland decided to twist one of literature's most iconic villains....

"Fagin may very well disgust us, but he is,

ultimately, a complex and multi-faceted

member of the human race. This is the

genius of Dickens"

After a hugely successful tour with 'A Christmas Carol- As told by Jacob Marley (deceased), James Hyland is back at the MET studio with his brand new show 'Fagin's Last Hour'.
Charles Dickens’ classic tale of crime and punishment is stunningly re-imagined in this powerful new stage adaptation. Told from the point of view of Fagin the Miser, one hour before his execution, this unique one-man show offers a fresh insight into literature’s most controversial villain. The show is already receiving rave reviews so we had a chat with James Hyland to discuss the complex nature of Fagin's character and to catch up on James' incredible year.

Hi James, it’s a pleasure to have you back and many congratulations on winning Best Performer in Theatre 2012 (Fringe Report Awards) for 'A Christmas Carol- Told By Jacob Marley (deceased)'. What have you been up to since you were with us last December?

Thank you. It's my pleasure to return to Stafford. The audience and staff at the Gatehouse were tremendous and I very much look forward to performing there again. I'm delighted to have won Best Performer in Theatre (Fringe Report Awards 2012). The reaction to 'A Christmas Carol, as told by Jacob Marley (deceased)' has been astounding, culminating with last year’s record-breaking performance at The McCarthy Studio and my nomination for The London Theatre Award (London Awards for Art and Performance 2012). The nomination was received in conjunction with fellow nominees the Royal Shakespeare Company (Matilda The Musical), the National Theatre (One Man, Two Guvnors), and the Young Vic (Noises Off). It's been a terrific honour to be nominated in competition with such well-known companies and, having had the pleasure of working with the RSC before, it makes me all the more proud to know that I am in such good company. Alongside my ongoing tour, I am currently writing a feature film screenplay as well as a new Dickens adaptation for the stage, and will also be directing my third short film in 2013 as well as appearing in two feature films. 'A Christmas Carol - As told by Jacob (deceased)' will also be returning to the stage this Christmas for its fourth consecutive tour as part of Charles Dickens' Bicentenary celebrations.

"Do try to see his performance. You won’t forget it" ***** ~Tom Aitken, Plays to See

This year you attended a Reception with The Queen at Buckingham Palace to mark the bicentenary of Charles Dickens. How does it feel when your work is recognised like this?

To be recognised for my work by Her Majesty 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 indeed. In addition to meeting The Queen, I had the privilege to meet The Duke of Edinburgh, The Duke of Gloucester, Princess Alexandra The Honourable Lady Ogilvy, and The Duke of Kent who took particular interest in ‘Fagin’s Last Hour’ and how the original concept for the show came about.

"Astonishing performance... this was unforgettable theatre at its best."~Jane Howard, The Courier

Similarly to your performance of A Christmas Carol told from Jacob Marley’s perspective, Fagin’s Last Hour is quite literally a twist on Oliver Twist, offering a fresh perspective and insight into the character of Fagin. How do you develop and adapt these classic stories to deliver a new story for your audience?

I always remain as close to the source material as possible but with an eye on accessibility for a twenty-first century audience. You can never put a book on stage in its entirety so a certain level of economy is required in order to adapt it for the theatre. With this in mind, I look for a focal point within the story, a focal point which holds particular importance to the author of the original work, and then I rework the story through that narrative centre. In the case of 'Oliver Twist', I was inspired by the chapter 'Fagin's Last Night Alive', the second to last chapter of the novel in which we see Fagin at his most desperate level awaiting his execution and, as a result, at his most human. By telling the story of 'Oliver Twist' through the words of Fagin, a criminal under extreme mental distress, I am allowing the personalisation of the story to accentuate the level of poignancy in the situation, as defined by Dickens, so that an audience may empathetically engage with the character, and his experiences, on a far deeper and more emotional level than would otherwise be the norm.

James Hyland as Fagin

"A gripping dramatic tour de force by James Hyland...a visceral performance and not to be missed"
~Neil Zoladkiewicz, The Dickens Fellowship

What are the challenges of making your audience connect and even perhaps feel empathy for a villain like Fagin?

The onus is always on telling the truth; to stay as true to the source material as possible. Fagin is not, according to the novel, a stock stage villain, nor is he a lovable rogue. He is a perverse creature devoid of conscience, the wily old serpent to Oliver's flawless innocent. And yet, the dark colours with which he is portrayed bleed with an unsettling naturalism, highlighting a larger truth specific to Dickens' expos̩ Рthat one's environment, not birth, influences character. And it is through the truthful expression of this expos̩ that we are able to empathise with such a character. Fagin may very well disgust us, but he is, ultimately, a complex and multi-faceted member of the human race. This is the genius of Dickens, that he is able to create a scenario which enables us to feel sympathy for a character that is unapologetically despicable and yet, at the last, recognisable for being human.

"The ending, after Hyland has left the stage, will stay with me for a long time." ~Susan Elkin, The Stage

Oliver Twist is such a popular tale, why do you think so many generations have connected with the story?

For me, the most memorable characters in 'Oliver Twist', and by consequence the most popular, are those of the criminal underworld. What makes them so memorable is not the fact that they are criminals per se but rather that they have no choice in being so. 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. The underworld characters, such as Fagin, find themselves in a dangerous world in which they are, from their introduction until their conclusion, in extreme danger; desperate human beings that are trying to eke out a living in a world where none is available except through criminal activity. Ultimately, it is fear that drives them; the fear of starvation versus the fear of the hangman's noose. That is a powerful dynamic, the evocation of human fear and how the dictates of its composition may narrate its expression in our daily lives. And it is our appreciation of that composition that resonates, time and again, within those of us who have experienced the tale.

"A gripping adaptation... Hyland lays bare Fagin's character in all his complexities ~David West, The Reliant

You’ve had fantastic reviews already for Fagin‘s Last Hour, how have audiences responded to the show so far?

The response has been enormously positive from the press and audiences alike. Several people have commented on how the ending of the show has stayed with them long after they have left the auditorium. This, again, is credit to Charles Dickens and his ability to connect with an audience through the sheer mastery of his storytelling combined with his unfaltering sense of truth.

James Hyland transformed as Fagin and Jacob Marley

                                                       Fagin's Last Hour official website


Fagin's Last Hour is at the MET Studio on Friday 26th October and Saturday 27th October. To bookyour tickets click here

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