Middle Temple Hall, London – until 30 December 2017
Although it was built in the 16th century, Middle Temple Hall is a very appropriate setting for Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, particularly as Dickens was a student at Middle Temple from 1839 to 1855, during which he wrote the story, amongst his other great hits. Produced and presented by Antic Disposition, this original musical adaptation of A Christmas Carol is a satisfying gourmet Christmas feast.
There are several imaginative concepts unique to Antic Disposition’s version of A Christmas Carol. One of my favourites is how Ben Horslen and John Risebero, who direct and wrote the lyrics and the musical’s book, have ingeniously set original lyrics to well-loved Christmas carols. So the lyrics of God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman morph into “tidings of humbug and gloom, misery doom,” “And night falls as heavy as the snow…gaslights glow.” To the music of “Good King Wenceslas” we hear the words “we once walked the earth like you, grasping and greedy, never spared a single thought for the poor and needy.” It is witty and fun.
Another Antic Disposition innovation, which works well, is the structure; there is a lot of dialogue, interspersed with Horslen and Risebero’s versions of traditional carols. The balance between dialogue and singing is proportionate. These carols are sung by the cast who are like a Greek Chorus narrating the story. The extremely multi-talented cast of singers/actors/dancers play individual characters, as well as being part of the Chorus, and the transitions between roles and scenes are smoothly done. I also love how the actor-musicians are part of the cast.
Even though we all know the tale so well, Antic Disposition’s interpretation feels new, it kept me enthralled and totally entertained throughout. David Burt as Ebenezer Scrooge is appropriately curmudgeonly, miserly and mean. He captures Scrooge’s unease really well, muttering to himself and starting at noises and visions whilst awaiting the Christmas Spirits. Burt presents a sensitive portrayal of Scrooge. When the Ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge to a scene of himself as a young boy playing with his sister, he witnesses young Ebenezer hugging his sister. Old Scrooge wraps his arms around his body, hugging himself at the same time, it is very moving. These small, but significant touches give us a nuanced Scrooge, providing authenticity when he is completely transformed into a loving and generous man. I feel Scrooge’s enjoyment, when he joins in with the dancing and games at Fezziwig’s and at his nephew’s home. Burt seems to physically and emotionally change from a broken miserable old man to a happy young man whose back straightens and moving lightly on his feet.
Chris Courtenay as Marley’s ghost is brilliant, roaring and writhing in pain; he moves as if he is walking under water with weights attached to his limbs. Mable Clements as Belle, is full of sorrow for the Scrooge she has lost in the sad scene when she releases Scrooge from their engagement. Charlotte Amber as Mrs Cratchit is just as she is depicted by Dickens; angry at Scrooge’s injustices towards Bob Cratchit, she grudgingly joins Bob’s Christmas toast to Scrooge.
The minimalist set all you need from this clever and joyous adaptation. All the cast draw on their multiple talents to mime, sing, play music and dance us through this heart-warming tale of redemption. Their voices are gorgeous; they are all very talented singers, singing clearly in wonderful harmonies. I love it when Tiny Tim sings a solo A Cappella of the first verse, with original words, to the tune of “In a Bleak Midwinter.” He is joined in the 2nd verse in a lovely duet by Kate Hume as Martha Cratchit. In the 3rd verse the Cratchit family sing together in a stunning harmony. The cast’s rendition of Silent Night is beautiful. The Ghost of Christmas Present takes Scrooge to visit various groups of people who each sing a verse of Silent Night. We are first taken to a group of miners, with a male tenor leading. We next visit a light house keeper, shepherds and sailors at sea each singing verses of Silent Night. Their singing is penetrating and poignant and it is a very effective way of showing us their lives and telling the story.
I am really impressed with how Antic Disposition’s A Christmas Carol remains faithful to Dickens tale in an imaginative and fresh way, which is entertaining and joyful. It’s not too late- go on, indulge yourself.