A Christmas Carol Review – The Stage
The setting for this Christmas tale is so ornate and enchanting that it gives the production an air of excitement and sophistication even before the opening line has been uttered.
And, happily, the Antic Disposition team members live up to their surroundings, presenting an entertaining play that observes the traditions of the tale while adding some welcome twists.
Chris Courtenay is particularly impressive as the tortured Ghost of Jacob Marley, and his reappearance when Scrooge is looking back at his doomed relationship with fiancee Belle (Emma Whittaker) is both ominous and poignant.
Of course, the success of a production of A Christmas Carol is largely dependent on the performance of Scrooge, and David Burt fits the bill perfectly. A thrilling combination of bitterness, misery, regret and loneliness, Burt gives Scrooge’s repellent qualities context, quickly eliciting festive sympathy.
Tiny Tim is played by a young boy, and on the press night Theo Williams was excellent – a great singer, who portrays timid Tim with incredible empathy and warmth.
The other cast members have a lot of doubling up to do but they manage the multiple roles expertly. Aided by creative costumes, the variety of characters evoked makes the cast seem larger than it is. Accompanied by live musicians, and including regular musical scenes, this production triumphs in portraying both the merriment and the frightening elements of the story. It is an interpretation that does justice to one of the festive season’s finest tales.
Verdict: Triumphant interpretation of the Dickens classic in a spectacular venue
By Catherine Usher for The Stage
A Christmas Carol Review – WOW247
Anne Cox delivers her verdict on a very special production of the Dickens classic, on at Middle Temple Hall in London til December 30.
A Christmas Carol is one of the most famous books ever written, no doubt about it.
Our definition of poverty may have changed somewhat since Dickens’ day, but his morality tale is as relevant in our era of austerity, food banks and the Big Society (remember that?) as it ever was.
It’s a story that transcends centuries and cultures, and has survived hundreds of stage and screen adaptations of varying style and quality, because of a very simple and enduring message: just be a bit kinder to each other.
Award-winning theatre company Antic Disposition first performed A Christmas Carol at the historic Middle Temple Hall in the heart of London’s City in 2012, to excellent reviews and a sell-out run.
But having seen their rather dreary Romeo & Juliet at Temple Church earlier this year, I wasn’t sure what to expect.
It’s Christmas Eve and the old and bitter miser Ebenezer Scrooge (West End star David Burt, reminiscent of a washed-up ’70s rocker in need of a shave) couldn’t care less.
He begrudgingly grants his clerk Bob Cratchit (Paul Tonkin) the 25th off work, before retiring for the night to his cold and lonely rooms.
Cue the ghost of his long-dead business partner Jacob Marley and a supporting cast of genuinely quite scary, Thriller-esque, ghouls.
With hunched backs and distorted faces, they’re weighed down with chains forged through lifetimes of greed and selfishness.
The spine-tingling gust of cold air felt in the creaking hall, whether it was intentional or not, was a nice touch.
Can Scrooge avoid such a fate? Marley arranges for Scrooge to be visited by three ghosts, of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come, who’ll try and persuade the miser to open his heart to his fellow men.
The ghosts show us, and Scrooge, how and why he became the man he did.
The young Ebenezer was once as much fun as any other boy, and his ultimately overwhelming obsession with money began simply as a desire to provide financial stability for the woman he loves.
The scene where the young Scrooge’s fiancee Belle (Emma Whittaker) leaves him is heartbreaking.
“Money will never be enough to protect you from unhappiness,” we’re warned.
Middle Temple Hall is a dramatic venue. Lighting Designer Tom Boucher does a phenomenal, atmospheric, job, and we’re treated to significantly better acoustics than at the neighbouring Temple Church.
The striking Elizabethan room is a most fitting venue for a night of Dickens.
The man himself gained admission to the Middle Temple as a law student in 1839, and remained until 1855, having written many of his most popular works – including A Christmas Carol – over the period.
Such a beautiful setting could easily have become a distraction – particularly after a glass of mulled wine – but with a gravelly voice and an air of menace that far exceeds his stature, Burt’s brilliant Scrooge never failed to hold my attention.
Following Scrooge’s epiphany, he has the audience in hysterics as he tosses gold coins around the room, drunk on Christmas spirit.
David Anthony plays a memorable Ghost of Christmas Present, flicking from jolly green giant to bellowing, looming spectre, as we see Scrooge finally begin to crack.
Dickens’ ghostly tale is interspersed with a score of original songs inspired by the carols of a Victorian Christmas, and I was still humming them the next morning.
We’ve seen A Christmas Carol with Muppets, animation, and in mime, but this is as traditional a production as you’ll get and all the better for it.
You can’t put down the novel, leave the theatre or turn the channel on A Christmas Carol without looking at your own life and how you treat the people around you, particularly those who are less fortunate.
Dickens appeals to both the selflessness and selfishness within us all.
We know we should do good deeds purely to improve the lives of others, but who doesn’t also fear a funeral devoid of mourners?
As he looks back on his childhood fantasies in a beautifully choreographed scene with an imaginary Ali Baba and Robin Hood, Scrooge mutters “now I’m too old for stories”.
I don’t think there’s a person alive who’d ever feel that way about this much-loved Christmas classic.
By Anne Cox for wow247
A Christmas Carol Review – LondonTheatre1.com
If you are looking for a festive treat, Antic Disposition’s A Christmas Carol has to be your first choice.
Charles Dickens is one of the most influential figures in English literature. A Christmas Carol was first published in December 1843, since then it has been re-written, re-imagined and re-told countless times including live action films, animation, theatre and even with muppets. A Christmas Carol is so synonymous with Christmas, Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without it.
The latest version of A Christmas Carol to be added to the list is a new musical version by Antic Disposition, currently showing at Middle Temple Hall. Middle Temple Hall is an iconic building in the East End of London, steeped in history and has its own famous links to English literature. This really is the perfect venue for staging this particular show. Adapted from the original, this new take on the classic is inventive but stays true to the essence of the story.
Scrooge’s journey from miserable old miser to joyous and generous is simple in its execution but highly effective and totally captivating. The story progresses with a steady pace and builds nicely to the famous happy ending that everybody so eagerly awaits, with the all important quote from Tiny Tim.
David Burt plays the central character, Ebenezer Scrooge, even the name itself is famous and has been absorbed into the English language. Burt’s characterisation of Scrooge is extremely well-rounded and fully realised from the very start of the performance. Burt delivers a nuance filled performance, even down to the nonsensical groaning and mumbling in between his dialogue.
Paul Tonkin in the role of Bob Cratchit is a pleasure to watch, his sensitive portrayal of this lowly, put upon worker is genuine and thoughtful. Tonkin plays a variety of characters, however, he slips seamlessly back into the role of Cratchit when necessary. No matter what role he is playing, the one factor that Tonkin does not lose is his sensational singing voice. This is clearly an actor with a great deal of talent and performance experience.
The entire cast, whilst being small in number, are extremely talented and perform with perfect engagement with one another as well as the audience. If the cast of a show are not enjoying themselves, working well as an ensemble or engaging with their audience the show will not deliver on any level. This is most certainly not the case with this wonderful production, the cast have clearly worked immensely hard to produce this highly polished and slick performance.
Whether it was an artistic decision or purely based on practicalities, the use of props and set are both minimal and thankfully so. The lack of extraneous aids enable the actors to be completely free in the performance space and also allows the audience to engage their imagination and focus entirely on the performance. The blend of recorded and live music is highly effective in creating the perfect score for the performers and a magic ambience for the audience. Middle Temple Hall is a vast and rather grand space, which only adds to the atmosphere the cast and crew work so hard to create.
If you are looking for a theatrical festive treat, Antic Dispositions’ A Christmas Carol has to be your first choice, book your tickets now and you will not be disappointed.
By Haydn James for LondonTheatre1.com
A Christmas Carol Review – British Theatre Guide
Another Christmas Carol! I’d endured too many I thought, but I have seen good site specific work from Antic Disposition’s (including here in historic Middle Temple Hall) and a colleague whose taste I trust saw this production when first mounted two years ago said I mustn’t miss it, she was going again. That changed my mind. I’m glad it did.
Of course location helps. It is a bit of an expedition to find the right way in through Middle Temple where the lamp-lit atmosphere of its venerable buildings helps to create a Dickensian mood. Mulled wine and mince pies upon arrival in the elegant panelled anterooms where lawyers gather create a Christmas warmth.
Portraits of eminent legal luminaries upon the walls emphasise social hierarchies, and not just Victorian ones but, although Dickens’s tale of miserly old Ebenezer Scrooge shows the sharp contrast between the comfortable middle class Christmas fare and lower class poverty, his story is about the curmudgeonly usurer’s reform.
It confronts him with the contrast between his happy youth and his grim future and shows him how even those with little means celebrate the festival. It is more an incitement to joy and generosity than a study in social awareness. Dickens knew what his readership would relish and Antic Disposition equally knows just how to please its audience.
Directors Ben Horslen and John Risebero have decked out their adaptation with versions of many of the favourite Christmas carols, though often with new lyrics to fit the story and some pointed alterations so that, for instance ”tidings of great joy” becomes “tidings of humbug and gloom”.
They have a familiar warmth and hugely help to create a Christmas atmosphere, though, with the difficult acoustic of this great hall (at least where I was in the production’s thrust stage layout) and with the original words automatically coming into mind, the new text did not always register.
Fortunately that doesn’t really affect the storytelling and though couple of the actresses aren’t quite up to the vocal challenge of the space the lead players can mainly handle it.
David Burt has presence and power in his gritty grumbling Scrooge and fairly rapidly reveals the remnants of a friendly sort of character, excavated from beneath the years of heartless greed, when shown his Christmas past. It’s a nicely judged performance that fits the space with a growling reality. He, his relations and the Cratchit family, especially Scrooge’s over exploited clerk Bob (Paul Tonkin), are played in a very natural way.
The apparitions who appear to Scrooge are rather more theatrical in vocal manner. That matches their unworldliness but perhaps is the result of using text taken straight from the novella, written for reading not for speech.
Chris Courtenay’s Ghost of Jacob Marley, weighed down with chains, is a striking image, picked out by Tom Boucher’s atmospheric lighting, but will only frighten the truly fearsome.
Christmas Past is a female ghost (Katie Lovell), a figure in white samite and white ringlets, like a silent movie queen, David Anthony a much warmer Ghost of Christmas Present, a wreath of holly on his head, while Christmas Future is a faceless figure swathed in black. The lead up to each of their appearances is beautifully done.
However little Scrooge may pay Bob Cratchit, this production doesn’t make his family paupers and, though they manage most things cheaply, Tiny Tim has a smart new coat and muffler; it is their generosity of spirit that is important, not their need. It is a homeless girl with only sacking to keep her warm and miners carolling underground whom Christmas Present uses to illustrate the really needy.
It would be too Scrooge-like not to respond to the Christmas spirit of this production, a spirit that Dickens and this story played a role in creating, a spirit full of a nostalgia for holly and candles and oranges and brandy-flaming puddings. It doesn’t over-indulge in sugary sentiment or overplay the pathos of crippled Little Tim and surely no one could fail to feel a tearful kind of joy when he leads a final carol and pronounces a last “Bless us all”.
This is, however, a company show that they can all be proud of with its excellent band, Christopher Peake’s music and Theo Holloway’s sound design all playing their part in a production that feels as much part of Christmas as the Christmas tree outside and the mince pies and mulled wine with which the evening began
By Howard Loxton for British Theatre Guide