An interview with Director Sameena Hussain on 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, Director Sameena Hussain shares her inspiration behind the story and why this show might be different to any other version of the classic tale.

Championing the inclusion of Deaf actors within the cast, Sameena shares the rehearsal process with us, inviting audiences to think about the changes that we can make in our day to day lives, allowing everyone to have the opportunity to grow. British Sign Language (BSL) will be embedded into the general performance with opportunities to enjoy a fully accessible BSL performance on selected dates during the run.

For those who do not know the story, what is the main message of A Christmas Carol and why is it still relevant today?

Sameena: The story of A Christmas Carol follows the character of Ebenezer Scrooge, somebody who has isolated himself from his community, his family, his friends, stuck on the ladder of greed and riches. It also follows the hard-working Cratchit family, who may not be rich in money and gold like Scrooge but have abundance of love and gratitude in their life. They are polar opposites. Sadly, we live in times that have so much in common with Dickensian times. Poverty is at its highest, the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer.

A Christmas Carol invites us to share the joy and family connection of Christmas, landing a lot of truths, but what I love about the story is how it invites us to question our complicit involvement of the oppression of people in our society. The fact that we have food banks is an issue, and people are working 9-5 who still are having to go to food banks, Bob Cratchit is working his 9-5 and still his family must scrimp and save, that is our reality. The reason Tiny Tim is ill is because his family is living in poverty, it’s not about Scrooge just giving them all his money, it’s about systematic changes like people being paid a proper wage, that is where the changes need to happen.

We can’t simply rely on food bank charity models that we currently live by where people might feel good about donating once a year. I love that this opens the conversation, inviting people to think about the changes that we can make to the environment that we live in, allowing everyone to have the opportunity to grow.

Q. Championing the inclusion of Deaf actors within the cast, are there any changes that you have needed to make to the script or the way that you rehearse?

Sameena: It has been brilliant having BSL consultants in the room, working with them and the company members who are Deaf / deaf and hard of hearing. We have been able to look at interpretations, working together to translate the script because a lot of the way that we speak in English is very different to BSL, so it’s restructuring the phrases. There has been time allocated for that process and ensuring that we have the appropriate knowledge, skills and experience within the room and not just relying on the cast members, to make those decisions.

We may not be conscious of them or aware of them, but we all have access needs. That was one of the early markers in this rehearsal process where I invited everyone to share their access needs. It has been brilliant having a real range of people within the company. We’ve got people who are profoundly Deaf, we’ve got people who are hard of hearing, we’ve got people who’ve never met a Deaf person before. It’s about asking, ‘how do we hold the space for everyone?’.

My job has been to find ways for us to have an equitable way of communicating. We have an interpreting team, who are brilliant and have contributed so much to the process. This process may be different from how we all are used to, we’re working in a bilingual / multilingual space and just one language happens to be visual rather than spoken. It’s about giving enough space and breath within the rehearsal space. For me, it’s always ensuring that all my rehearsal processes are open and inclusive, responding to the needs of this makeup of people.

Q. What inspires you as a director and how does your work allow you to create change?

Sameena: Even before I knew that this could be my job, I was always driven by the joy of storytelling. I have always enjoyed watching a show or a movie with my family or making up stories with my friends. I come from a participatory background and so experiencing and witnessing what play and storytelling can do to a group of people, both in terms of how it can bring us together and how it can invite us to feel joy and happiness, has been a driving force for me.

I am inspired by the power of being able to stand in front of an audience to tell your story, this is who I am, owning every part of yourself and sharing that authentically. Not everyone has that luxury and for me it’s important that my work is not just about directing stories that are shiny and new, that everyone loves, but where the audience are always questioning something because of those stories. Who is it for? How can theatre create change?

Q. What makes this adaptation of A Christmas Carol different from any other version?

Sameena: This is an interesting question, because technically this production is in its fourth iteration, previously directed by Amy Leach and designed by Hayley Grindle. It’s already been on a journey, so there’s a real legacy to this production from when it first started in 2017 in Hull, tuning into the amazing work that’s happened in the previous three versions, and then making it this company’s production.

I think this version is bold and brave. Even though it’s a Christmas show and it’s for families and it’s all about fun and joy, this story is not afraid to lean into truth and sometimes the truth isn’t all shiny, beautiful, and bright. Embracing all identities that are present in this company, without trying to mould anyone in any way to fit the masses’ expectations or preferences. Deaf people, People of Colour, Disabled people and people from the LGBTQIA+ community have always been part of our society, the unfortunate fact is we’ve been pushed to the margins and not acknowledged in our British History and not represented on stages and screens. I love that there’s honesty at the heart of this production. 

This version is set in Hull, and it has been beautiful to see the connection made within the design, the story, and the music, referencing recognisable places like the docks and embracing the local community within. I am looking forward to seeing the people from Hull connecting the characters of Scrooge and the Cratchits who walk amongst us in their own lives.

Q. What are you looking forward to this Christmas?

Sameena: I really love having some dedicated time where my loved ones have time off together. I have to be honest; I don’t really host the meal, I just love attending the meal, playing games and just spending some decent quality time with family and friends. We have an annual tradition where we take my nieces and nephews to the theatre, so I’ll be bringing them along to the show. I’m excited for them to embrace the joy and be a part of the liveness of the theatre.

I think there’s something beautiful about watching a show at Christmas time, because everyone watches in high spirits and festive cheer, literally as soon as you’re driving in, there’s Christmas music playing on the radio. That’s Christmas. Or if you’re on the bus, the lights make everything Christmassy, right? The thought of young children seeing this production gives me hope that they are the future changemakers.

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