An interview with actors Adam Bassett and Emma Prendergast from A Christmas Carol at Hull Truck Theatre

Hull Truck Theatre are extremely proud to continue celebrating their 50th Anniversary year, presenting A Christmas Carol in association with Leeds Playhouse. In this interview, Deaf actor Adam Bassett (Bob Cratchit) and deaf actor Emma Prendergast (Mrs Crachit) talk about how rehearsals are going for A Christmas Carol. Discover who inspired them to act when growing up and learn how the cast communicate with each other using British Sign Language (BSL).

Emmer Prendergast with a member of the Young Company in rehearsals for A Christmas Carol

Hull Truck Theatre are excited for audiences to enjoy this thrilling adaptation of Dicken’s classic Christmas tale, which is a festive treat for the whole family to enjoy. Recommended for children aged 5+. BSL will be embedded into the general performance with opportunities to enjoy a fully accessible BSL performance on selected dates during the run. Learn why families should come and experience A Christmas Carol this year, to see it performed in a new way.

Q. Why should audiences be excited about seeing A Christmas Carol?

Adam: This is the first time that Hull Truck Theatre has contracted a BSL Deaf actor into one of their productions. For many people who go to the theatre this will be the first time they experience a Deaf actor working alongside a hearing cast, embedding BSL into their performance. This performance gives everyone an amazing opportunity to see a Deaf person performing in mainstream theatre, providing an excellent role model to future generations and proving that anything is possible with their own future. When the audience go home, they will talk to their friends and family about what they have experienced, and this will raise Deaf awareness.

Emma: Our version of A Christmas Carol is spooky, magical and chaotic! The show will be everything you would come to expect from the classic tale, with a few surprises as well… I’m particularly excited for audiences to see our ghosts, who help carry the audience, and Scrooge, through the story. They’re scary ghosts and silly clowns all at the same time. This show will give you the essence of a modern family Christmas in Hull, but with all the fun and nostalgia of Dickensian Britain thrown in.

Q. How do you show your relationship in the show as Mr & Mrs Crachit? Do you both communicate together using BSL?

Emma: The Crachits are a typical example of a family in Hull, doing everything they can to provide the best life for their children. They are a Deaf empowered family and happen to use British Sign Language as their main form of communication. Like many other families, their ways of communicating vary; sometimes Mrs Crachit uses BSL, sometimes speech with her children, as well as incorporating signs that are personal to the family. They’re a family that showcases the variety of experiences of BSL users and the personal differences for each user and each family. For example, I learnt BSL in London, and have had to pick up some signs that are specific to BSL in the North!

Because of the setting of the play, we’re able to explore the socio-political side of what it means to be Deaf in Dickensian Britain. This show opens up the spectrum of communication possibilities within the Deaf community in public and at home. It asks the question: who has permission, thanks to their position in Dickensian society, to employ the form of communication that empowers them best?

Adam: A Christmas Carol was written by Charles Dickens, when he wrote this, he did not include Deaf characters; however, there are no rules for the interpretation of a text, and we can include Deaf characters as they are representative of real communities – we exist! This story is very well known, and this performance provides a different perspective, through the inclusion of sign language in the play. I am hoping that this will have a positive influence on the audience, they may even be motivated into learning BSL themselves!

Jordan Castle, Adam Bassett & Mark Donald in rehearsals for A Christmas Carol

Q. Do you think there is a lack of opportunity for deaf and disabled people in the performing arts? What would you like to see theatres do to make positive changes?

Adam:There have only ever been two deaf Oscar winners! The first one was awarded in 1986, Marlee Matlin, a female deaf actress, which was amazing. The second one was awarded recently to an actor called Troy Kotsur, for his performance in the film CODA, which shows that it is possible that deaf people can perform as well as everyone else. I think that deaf people should play the parts of deaf characters, it makes so much sense, why wouldn’t you cast deaf actors? Deaf people use BSL instinctively and do so beautifully, it is great that I have been given the opportunity to do this at Hull Truck Theatre. I am a Deaf actor and proud.

When I was growing up, I watched a lot of silent films and slapstick comedy, for example Charlie Chaplin. Watching an actor perform with no speech made me think that this was something that I could do. As a young person there were no opportunities for me to go into acting and so I became a professional actor later in life, about 10-12 years ago, and I have never looked back. It is important for the theatre world to listen to the experiences of deaf people and forge relationships between deaf actors and the industry. The opportunities for deaf actors are growing and it is important for deaf children to see these role models.

Emma: Whilst Deaf and Disabled artists have always been here, there has been a rise in visibility in the last few years. This visibility is crucial in inspiring young Deaf and Disabled people into entering the arts, but this awareness must now become representation and advocacy. Across the country, Deaf and Disabled people are still being used in a tokenistic way, and theatres have a lot of work to do to make positive change. This means not just employing Disabled artists but being willing to listen and learn from their experiences. Theatres must pay Deaf and Disabled individuals for their time to find working solutions to the barriers that these artists face in the industry. This information must then be retained, so that future generations of Disabled people have an accessible framework to step into, rather than having to educate and inform at their own expense.

Q. How did you go about beginning and maintaining a career in the arts?

Emma: I was lucky enough to be offered a place at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School at the age of 18. I spent two years of the pandemic working self-represented and this allowed me to focus my energy into projects I really wanted to do; working with a variety of accessible theatre companies that focus on people-led, Disabled-led and Queer-led stories.

Adam: I have always loved to make people laugh. I took ideas from the films I had watched; and people would tell me that I should be an actor. I knew I wanted to act but didn’t know how to get into it. I remember one teacher telling me that I couldn’t become an actor as I was Deaf! That message stuck with me. I look back now and see what barriers I broke through. I didn’t give up, I kept going. I remember seeing a quote “If you follow your dreams, success will follow you” and that has inspired me.

Q. What is your favourite memory of Christmas from years gone by and does the show make you excited for Christmas?

Emma: For me, Christmas is all about family. I’m one of six siblings, and so I’m used to Christmas being different every year. Different because of what we’re eating, who we’re with and where we are. Much like A Christmas Carol, my Christmas always means two things: family and food!

Adam: Since my daughter was born 10 years ago, I make sure that I spend Christmas with her and have that family time. I am excited for Christmas, to spend family time with the three of us, doing Christmas activities together and watching Christmas films. I love doing that and eating lots of Christmas food – making lovely vegan food and mince pies, I like to see the lights on the Christmas tree, having Christmas drinks. I look forward to all those things, the general festivities and of course a good Christmas show!

A Christmas Carol runs from Friday 25 November until Saturday 31 December at Hull Truck Theatre.