Glorious music and murder most foul at Chichester Festival Theatre

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Angels and abandoned children, glorious music and murder most foul whirl through a richly-colourful tale of 18th-century England as Coram Boy takes to the stage at Chichester Festival Theatre.

By Helen Edmundson, based on the novel by Jamila Gavin, it runs on the main-house stage from Friday, May 24-Saturday, June 15.

Playing the villainous Mrs Lynch is Jo McInnes who is relishing the sheer scale and spectacle of it all: “It is absolutely extraordinary,” she says.

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“I was in rehearsals the other day and I was watching it and I was already so moved by it. You think of a Dickens story and how a Dickens story just feels so relevant today and it's that kind of thing. An extraordinary yarn full of shadows and darkness and just the joy of the piece. It is quintessential story-telling. The drama is always driving it forward. Everything moves things on and so yes, I do think it is helpful to think of Dickens. Like Dickens it doesn't shy away from the darkness that was in society then and is in society now. It doesn't candy-coat anything. In fact it brings it to the fore and you are just held up by this story. The realism is in the world of the story and it takes you to some very dark places, like the story of Oliver does in a way. You've got the extreme darkness and the cruelty but you're held by the story. It's about orphans at a time when in the 18th century there were thousands and thousands of children that were born that were either illegitimate or were just in total poverty. And you have the people that were supposed to be charitable but in a way these children are still seen as ‘other’ in a way that refugees today are seen as ‘other.’ We are affected by refugees’ stories but they are still seen as ‘other.’ And there are so many other things that are so relevant to today. There is trafficking. And it's all from historical fact. Thomas Coram was an extraordinary man. He didn't have huge wealth but he saw this abject poverty and he saw what was happening, he said ‘We must do something about this.’ He got together with people like Hogarth and Handel to put money together to create the Coram Foundation. The Coram charity is still going. I went to the museum the other day and we found out that it's still one of the biggest children's charities in the country and is still doing incredible work. The Coram idea is the centre of the story, and we look at the stories that involve that idea, the destitution and the desperation, but also the people that were dealing with their own issues and complexities. The story that has the breath that Dickens has and like Dickens it’s a story with a beginning, middle and an end and you just never know what is going to happen.”

Jo McInnes (contributed pic)Jo McInnes (contributed pic)
Jo McInnes (contributed pic)

The fact that so many of the issues are still issues today could be construed as a little depressing: “But I think it is about awareness. You are aware that we have not progressed and that's why art needs to hold up a mirror. There's something very important about shining a light but it is also a powerful story of love and kindness and there is the most incredible music. You have this great juxtaposition of the darkness and the wonderful music in all its purity. And that lifts up reality into something that is heightened. Love and kindness are the answers, and I would say that's how I see it.”

Jo is playing a villain in the piece: “She is a baddie but not an archetypal baddie. She is a very complex baddie and there is this huge back story that you get tiny little glimpses of, of what has happened to her in her past history. So she's not an arch baddie. She's a manipulator and she is charismatic – as all good baddies should be!”