It’s where Shakespeare debuted Twelfth Night, and fellow literary legend and author of A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, studied law, but so spectacular is Middle Temple Hall that it doesn’t even need to mention these credentials to be considered a breathtaking venue; rather, its Elizabethan magnificence speaks for itself, heraldic stained glass windows and wooden panelling towering over visitors, arches bearing the weight of a history impregnated into the oak. Much more than just a beautiful hall, as a theatrical venue it’s currently playing host to Antic Disposition’s very special adaptation of A Christmas Carol, with a production of a startlingly high quality not often reached in fringe theatre.
This stage adaptation by Antic Disposition founders Ben Horslen and John Risebero of the perennial festive favourite puts the “carols” into A Christmas Carol, familiar festive melodies floating through air already rich with the scent of mulled wine and mince pies. Delivered by a multi-talented cast of actor-singers including David Burt as the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, David Hunter as his hard-up clerk Bob Cratchit and Victoria Hope as former fiancée Belle, John Risebero’s lyrics set to centuries-old Christmas carols serve the triple purpose of feeling exceptionally Christmassy, furthering the story, and bringing the atmosphere of Victorian London alive onstage.
Amongst the gloom of the Dickensian capital lives and works a character so ubiquitous that his name has passed into the English lexicon: Scrooge. The play follows the tale of the misanthropist money lender as he’s visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, and in the process is forced to confront the reality of how his decisions touch the other people around him. A message just as relevant today, in a post-banking-crisis United Kingdom, as it ever was, Dickens’ unforgettable characters are brought unmistakeably to life in a production which, like the novella it’s based on, champions family values, and showcases the power of hope and redemption.
That’s not to say it’s perfect; the ghost costumes are a bit theme-park-haunted-house-esque, and with speakers used for sound effects and music to back the live 4-piece band, there seems to be a strange tension between what’s being played live and what isn’t, possibly due to the disparity in volume that has the sound effects significantly louder and un-mic’ed cast voices struggling to compete. But, really, the biggest challenge for this production won’t be anything in the writing or execution; it’ll be in the timing, since in opening just a couple of days before Christmas, it has inevitably missed much of the window for Christmas audiences.
Yet it’s a show that deserves, in every way, to do well. With all the ingredients of a successful Christmas show, and rejecting the temptation to indulge in gratuitous innuendo and awkwardly forced audience participation, it nevertheless appeals to adults and children alike. David Burt’s delightfully miserable depiction of Scrooge would in itself be reason enough to buy a ticket, but when presented in such a magnificent location, as part of such a crescendo of festivity, it has to be one of the most exciting shows in London this Christmas.