JAMES Swanton, the Outstanding Performing Artist winner in the 2018 York Culture Awards, is facing a Dickens of busy week.

As he was for The Mysteries After Dark, when playing Lucifer as a baleful master of ceremonies in the Shambles Market, James will be the black-clad gatekeeper for all manner of supernatural terrors when he presents Ghost Stories For Christmas at the York Medical Society, in Stonegate, York, from Monday to Friday.

His “considerable marathon” of a challenge has involved memorising three hours of wintery material for a “seasonal roulette of three Dickensian tales": A Christmas Carol (“inevitably”, he says, on the 175th anniversary of its publication), and the lesser-performed The Chimes and The Haunted Man.

Fresh from the London leg of his Ghost Stories For Christmas, James answers Charles Hutchinson’s questions ahead of a week when A Christmas Carol can be seen in four different versions: Procter Goblins, John O’Connor as Mr Dickens, the Guild Of Misrule and Swanton’s show.

Why is A Christmas Carol so amenable to being presented in so many guises each winter in York and elsewhere, James?

“Could it be that it’s the greatest story ever written? Ebenezer Scrooge has joined Sherlock Holmes and Count Dracula as Victorian literature’s most endlessly adapted characters.

“But unlike the master detective and the master vampire, who constantly crop up in diverse new contexts, Scrooge remains inseparable from his original story. It’s perfectly structured and passionately written. It demands to be told, just as we all demand to hear it, year after year. There’s a great responsibility not to do it badly!”

What form do your three shows take? A reading or more than that in your one-man show?

“I’m happy to say that these are full-fledged dramatisations rather than Jackanory-style readings. This has been quite the Labour of Hercules: 180 minutes of text to memorise to cover the three one-hour readings! But it’s worth it to ensure these pieces are truly alive. My abridgements are closely based on Dickens’s own performance scripts, so their faith to their sources is absolute.”

Will you use a similar performance style for each tale?

“This is old-fashioned storytelling in a suitably atmospheric space. I’m hoping to use every physical and vocal trick in my repertoire to make the audience see Dickens’s pictures as clearly as I do myself.

“The formidable Miriam Margolyes saw me performing one of these pieces last year at London’s Charles Dickens Museum. She was very complimentary about its pictorial vividness – and she’s not easily pleased!”

York Press:

Congratulations: James Swanton receives his award for Outstanding Live Performer at the 2018 York Culture Awards

Give a quick synopses of The Chimes and The Haunted Man…

"Just like A Christmas Carol, these lesser-known works hinge on disenchanted older men who must encounter the supernatural to change for the better. The Chimes is the exuberant tale of a lowly ticket-porter who finds goblins squatting in the bells of his local church. Meanwhile, The Haunted Man is a Gothic chiller about a chemist who hatches a bargain with his ghostly double to remove all of his sorrowful memories.”

Dickens’s concern over Ignorance and Want rings out loudly in A Christmas Carol’s 175th anniversary year. Rather than being ghosts, the ills of greed and the need for charity and care for others are as alive as ever. Discuss.

“You know, the absence of Ignorance and Want might be the only flaw in The Muppet Christmas Carol (a near-perfect film, as everyone knows). Dickens spectacularly revives the figure of Ignorance in The Haunted Man, in which the feral child receives a ferocious human embodiment. Deeply disturbing.

“And The Chimes is so socially angry that it might as well be called ‘A Brexit Christmas Carol’. It attacks the untrustworthy press, the still more untrustworthy rich, and a world that condemns the poor without considering how they came to such grief. These might be Victorian ghost stories, but they are indisputably stories for our own age.

We still respond to what Dickens says in a way that contrasts with so many people turning their back on religion. Why?

“Dickens might be considered to have reinvented Christianity for an increasingly secular world. He’s particularly invested in the idea of redemption, and how it might be realized through the death of an innocent child.

"Death is ever-present for Christ, even at the nativity: think of King Herod’s massacre of the innocents, or the Wise Man who gifts him with the myrrh that’ll preserve his body after the crucifixion. All three of these Dickensian ghost stories centre on children in mortal peril. Tiny Tim must be resurrected just as miraculously as Scrooge. Dickens suggests that we can conquer death, but in ways more practical than waiting for an afterlife."

How did you feel about winning Outstanding Live Performer in the 2018 York Culture Awards?

"I was very touched - York being my native city - but also tickled. My great acting heroes are the likes of Boris Karloff and Vincent Price, so it was tremendous to get recognition for three horror roles: Count Dracula, Frankenstein's Creature and Lucifer in the York Mystery Plays.

"And here I am again, playing another black-clad gatekeeper for countless supernatural terrors next week."

And finally, what’s in the James Swanton diary of performing engagements in 2019?

"As of yet, it's a very clear diary! I'm still waiting for someone to offer me Richard III, after which I can retire content."

James Swanton’s Ghost Stories For Christmas, York Medical Society, Stonegate, York, 7pm nightly; A Christmas Carol, December 17, 19, 21; The Chimes, December 18; The Haunted Man, December 20. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk