Enjoy OVO's 'magical and atmospheric adaptation' of Charles Dickens' The Chimes around St Albans city centre

The cast of OVO's Christmas production of The Chimes outside Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in St Albans.

The cast of OVO's Christmas production of The Chimes outside Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in St Albans. - Credit: Elliott Franks

Deborah Heath reviews OVO's Christmas production of The Chimes in St Albans.

Audience members following Anna Franklin from OVO's promenade production of The Chimes by Charles Dickens in St Albans.

Audience members following Anna Franklin from OVO's promenade production of The Chimes by Charles Dickens in St Albans. - Credit: Elliott Franks

OVO are offering St Albans a free Christmas treat this year with a promenade performance of The Chimes by Charles Dickens.

The action takes the audience from St Peter’s churchyard and around the city centre, ending conveniently by a pub.

The Chimes' Lewis Jenkins, Anna Franklin and Emilia Harrild outside Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in St Albans.

The Chimes' Lewis Jenkins, Anna Franklin and Emilia Harrild outside Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in St Albans. - Credit: Elliott Franks

Amidst COVID concerns, an outdoor performance proved particularly appealing and drew a large audience. We even picked up intrigued passers-by on the way!

Dickens wrote The Chimes the year after A Christmas Carol. 

It tells the story of a young couple, Meg and Richard, and as the audience we took on the character of Meg’s father. It was a clever adaptation that quickly involved the audience in the unfolding action.

Anna Franklin performing in The Chimes, OVO's Christmas production in St Albans.

Anna Franklin performing in The Chimes, OVO's Christmas production in St Albans. - Credit: Elliott Franks

An ever-strong performance from Anna Franklin started us on our journey, setting the scene as she took us past the taxi rank and bus stops until we forgot we weren’t in Victorian London.

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My favourite touch was when she pointed across the street and called out, “Hey, isn’t that your daughter?” – we hadn’t even noticed the two actors outside the Travelodge!

Unlike A Christmas Carol, this was a love story but like it, we were treated to spirits, visions and a gritty commentary on Victorian poverty.

OVO's production of The Chimes by Charles Dickens outside St Albans Museum + Gallery. 

OVO's production of The Chimes by Charles Dickens outside St Albans Museum + Gallery. - Credit: Elliott Franks

St Albans Museum provided a fitting backdrop to a scene with a local justice of the peace, Alderman Cute; knowing that the old court was just behind the actors sent shivers down my spine.

Director Matt Strachan had clearly chosen his route carefully.

Anna Franklin performing in OVO's production of The Chimes by Charles Dickens outside The Clock Tower in St Albans.

Anna Franklin performing in OVO's production of The Chimes by Charles Dickens outside The Clock Tower in St Albans. - Credit: Elliott Franks

French Row was better than any scenery. We went up alleyways, visited the Clock Tower, walked past the Abbey as it chimed and paused amidst the graves of Romeland for a sad portion of the story.

Without giving away spoilers, I can assure you that the final scene had the best setting of all.

Emilia Harrild, in a contrasting role from her recent one in Vinegar Tom, portrayed sweet, loving and hardworking Meg with great sensitivity.

Audience members following OVO's promenade production of The Chimes by Charles Dickens in St Albans city centre.

Audience members following OVO's promenade production of The Chimes by Charles Dickens in St Albans city centre. - Credit: Elliott Franks

Her beautiful singing voice added to the haunting atmosphere as we followed her through the dark streets.

For many actors the role of Richard would be too tough as his fortunes and character change rapidly during half an hour, but Lewis Jenkins gave a superb performance, mastering all aspects of Richard’s character.

OVO presents The Chimes by Charles Dickens as its Christmas production around St Albans city centre.

OVO presents The Chimes by Charles Dickens as its Christmas production around St Albans city centre. - Credit: Elliott Franks

Aside from playing tricky roles, and in Anna Franklin’s case three roles, it takes a talented group of actors to master an outdoor performance.

It requires vocal skill and a lot of flexibility when faced with the elements.

However Franklin, Harrild and Jenkins took it one step further, staying in character as they led the audience through a still busy high street.

OVO's Christmas production of The Chimes on the streets of St Albans.

OVO's Christmas production of The Chimes on the streets of St Albans.

There were a few busy shoppers who were not on board and a runner even crossed right in front of the actors during a poignant scene, but these marvellous actors were not phased.

To conclude, I thoroughly recommend that you join the last performance of The Chimes on December 22.

No one writes a gritty yet uplifting Christmas story like Mr Dickens and no company could pull off such a magical and atmospheric adaptation as OVO!

The remaining promenade performance of The Chimes around St Albans city centre is scheduled for Wednesday, December 22, at 5pm, with a starting point outside St Peter’s Church.

OVO's production of The Chimes by Charles Dickens outside St Albans Museum + Gallery. 

OVO's production of The Chimes by Charles Dickens outside St Albans Museum + Gallery. - Credit: Elliott Franks

OVO's The Chimes by Charles Dickens.

OVO's The Chimes by Charles Dickens. - Credit: Elliott Franks

Crowds following OVO's production of The Chimes by Charles Dickens in St Albans city centre.

Crowds following OVO's production of The Chimes by Charles Dickens in St Albans city centre. - Credit: Elliott Franks

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