Charles Dickens’ The Chimes was published in 1844, one year after A Christmas Carol. Like the better-known festive tale, The Chimes is driven by the author’s desire to show the hardships of poverty, the hypocrisy of the rich and humankind’s ability to do good.
Judith Roberts’ production of David Willis’ adaptation is strident in its message: nothing has changed. Extracts from Victorian newspapers read aloud overlap with broadcasts from the Conservative Party conference and other snippets of politicians passing judgement on the lives of the poor.
Created in collaboration with a series of homeless charities, The Chimes focuses less on the experience of modern or historic homelessness and more on the wider picture of impoverishment
Accordingly, the piece is most effective in the ensemble moments, either singing Conor Linehan’s music that overlaps like peeling church bells or creating a tapestry of voices. Individually, Lucy Benson Brown is convincingly stoic as the ever patient and browbeaten Meg.
Staged using the length of the nave, the plot is somewhat hard to follow. The basic point, however, remains clear. The MPs and political economists in their top hats are not just clueless to the causes of destitution, but the very creators of it.