Show artwork for A new work to carol about
Phillip Kavanagh and Elise Esther Hearst. Photo: James Henry
70 Years On

A new work to carol about

Meet Phillip Kavanagh and Elise Esther Hearst – writers of our final show of the year, A Very Jewish Christmas Carol – and discover how their idea for a new play formed almost by accident and was further developed through NEXT STAGE.

How did your artistic collaboration begin?

We were lucky enough to both be NEXT STAGE resident writers in 2019 and have the added bonus of getting along swimmingly. After spending a lot of time together in the literary department, we were able to share ideas back and forth, and get to know each other’s writing, as well as make each other laugh.

This play came about kind of accidentally. Elise was hosting her first family Christmas and came to Phil for advice. ‘Do I hide my menorahs?’ ‘Do I have to feed them ham?’ At the same time, we were coming up with pitches for plays to write for the Company. Phil woke up in the middle of the night and wrote a note on his phone, ‘What if Elise’s family Christmas, but A Christmas Carol?’ He texted it to Jennifer Medway, Head of New Work, half as a joke, half hoping she loved it. She loved it! Phil then mentioned it to Elise, and Elise started having ideas for where we could take it. We kept bouncing it around, and the idea grew.

What can you tell us about A Very Jewish Christmas Carol?

A Very Jewish Christmas Carol is our wacky adaptation of Charles Dickens’s classic tale.

We have our central character, who we’ve named Elysheva (she’s Ebenezer adjacent). She is a control freak and a tyrant (of sorts) who is heavily pregnant, and hosting Christmas for her gentile in-laws and her Jewish parents, who have invited themselves along.

She is visited by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet To Come, along with her infamously bad-tempered grandmother, who died the year before. But, as her Rabbi tells her, while it is technically rabbinically sound to believe in ghosts, a good Jew must NEVER speak to one.

What does being commissioned through NEXT STAGE mean to you?

We’re so thrilled to have this opportunity to work together, especially during a time when so many of us had been forced into isolation. It was amazing how quickly we were able to make choices when there’s another person there, so you can’t just spiral into self-doubt like each of us would on our own. We are excited to bring to the stage a happy, joyful Christmas show, where we can all have a good laugh at ourselves and (respectfully) each other. And, on a personal note, it’s really nice for us to get to make this together, working to make each other laugh and then hopefully, eventually, you.

A Very Jewish Christmas Carol will be the 11th NEXT STAGE commission to be staged by Melbourne Theatre Company and one of six Australian plays presented in our 2023 season.

NEXT STAGE Writers’ Program is supported by the Donors, Foundations and Organisations of the Playwrights Giving Circle.

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Published on 28 April 2023

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