Jack Thorne is one of the busiest writers for stage (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) and screen (His Dark Materials) lately when it comes to major adaptations — and his latest work on Broadway is no exception. His reimagining of A Christmas Carol, which had a hit run at London’s Old Vic in 2017, is up in New York this holiday season (at the Lyceum Theater) with a star-packed cast including LaChanze and Andrea Martin as the ghosts of Christmas past and present, and Campbell Scott — following in the footsteps of his father George C. Scott — as memorable curmudgeon Ebenezer Scrooge.
In the midst of the run (up through Jan. 5), Thorne spoke to Billboard from his home in London about adapting the iconic story and the correlations between Scrooge and the current President of the United States: “You can only change them through compassion.”
This play started on the West End two years ago. How did you first get involved?
Matthew Warchus, the artistic director of the Old Vic [in London], sent me an email that said, “Listen, I’m thinking of going for A Christmas Carol. Have you ever thought about adapting it?” I said, “For you, absolutely!” I obviously had a sense of it because the book is very, very treasured. But I looked at the text and was astonished by how beautifully it was written.
I sort of went at it like a bull in a china shop and did a couple of things completely wrong: I first framed it as Charles Dickens talking to his actual sister, Sam. I saw it as a conversation between the two of them during the late hours in her place in Manchester. When I submitted that draft, [Warchus] said, “I love what you’ve done to Scrooge, but now I want you to strip away all of the Dickens stuff and just tell Scrooge’s story.” And that’s what I did and thankfully he liked it, and this is our third year of the show and we are so, so, so delighted to have it on Broadway.
You’ve made a career taking beloved properties, whether it be Harry Potter or A Christmas Carol, and creating something new from them. Is starting from an existing world easier than the blank page, or do the expectations involved make it more difficult?
I’m someone that grew up watching an awful lot of television and a lot of long-running shows that have gone on for 20, 30 years. And I was always fascinated in the ways different writers would handle the stories and take those characters on. That’s sort of how I see myself with both of those things. You’re providing reflection. With Harry Potter the gig was very different because you want to be true to the story and what J.K. Rowling had done. With A Christmas Carol, massive failure is also possible, but you have less obligation to the writer. It’s a story that has been told four million times, so you’re not sitting there going, “Oh, what if I upset Charles Dickens?” You can impose your own version on it. But of course, they’re both absolutely terrifying and absolutely exciting.
With A Christmas Carol, did you set out to watch some of those many other adaptations or did you just start cold?
I didn’t watch or read anything. I had Dickens’ original text and I just went from that. I did a lot of just sitting and thinking about what kind of Scrooge interested me. I thought a lot about the age he was in, and wanted our version to be about the possibilities of change. If I was to do a biopic of Trump, I’d want to show him the pain he’s caused, but I’d also want to show him the pain he’s caused himself through his behavior and allow him to see that there are possibilities of change within himself. That’s the Scrooge I wanted to tell. It’s not about the damage he’s done to others, but the damage he’s done to himself through his myopic meanness. By showing him what he’s lost, that seems like it’d be the way to reform these men. We’ve done it in our country with Boris Johnson. People that are so set on power and so set on doing immense damage to people through thoughtlessness — that was the Scrooge I wanted to look at. I think all the seeds were there in the original and I just wanted to bring them out.
You’ve worked across so many different mediums as a writer — stage, radio, film, television. Was it always your plan?
My entire career has been a surprise. I’m someone who has surfed a wave and I’ve been very, very lucky the wave has kept going — and that more, interesting people have allowed me to join their own, bigger waves.