A Christmas Carol is probably the second most famous Christmas story – behind a slightly more influential tale about a baby, three wise men and a stable – and the reason that it has lasted so long is that Dickens cleverly unites the notions of charity and benevolence, which is a key feature of the festive season, with the very human need to reassess our lives as another year closes. Antic Disposition have reprised their musical version of this ghostly story of redemption and salvation in the delightful surroundings of Middle Temple Hall to remind us, as that other great philosopher Kylie once said, “it’s never too late”.
In the evocative surroundings of this 16th-century hall this version of A Christmas Carol takes on a delightful and at times enchanting new aspect that fits perfectly with the festive season. The tale is a familiar one, a miserly Scrooge loathes all kinds of Christmas celebration, charity or any other forms of humanity, but on receiving a warning from the ghost of his dead business partner and a visitation from three spirits that take Scrooge on a journey through his past, present and future, he finds redemption.
Most impressive in Antic Disposition’s musical version is the believable way in which they show Scrooge’s slow self-realisation; it’s not a sudden change of heart but a slow warming as he revisits happy memories of the past including his boyhood enthusiasms for Robin Hood and Ali Baba, as well as his love for his early business experience at Fezziwig’s. This is interlaced with Christopher Peake’s music which cleverly rewords familiar carols which help to maintain the Victorian flavour of the piece. In the early sections, a new version of God Rest Yea Merry Gentlemen is used to give a hint of the conditions of the poor in London as Scrooge pounds the streets, which has a Les Miserables-like flavour. Later Bob Cratchit has an emotional future moment to the tune of In the Bleak Midwinter which is beautifully placed.
David Burt is excellent as Scrooge bringing a gruff and growly tone as he snarls at everyone from his clerk to the charity collectors who come to his door. Amid ‘tidings of humbug and gloom’ Burt is the perfect miser and sets the tone nicely for what is to come. This is tempered by a subtle melting as Burt allows his Scrooge to become lost in past moments, making his ultimate change of heart seem natural and meaningful. Good support also comes from David Hunter as a happy-go-lucky Bob Cratchit who in this version clearly uses that essential goodness to tolerate his employer. Alex Hooper plays a likeable Fred a character that is usually a bit annoying, as well as the young Scrooge which is good piece of casting, as is doubling-up on the jovial characters of Fzziwig and the Ghost of Christmas Present which David Anthony makes buoyant and cheery.
Many of the small cast seem to have been chosen for their singing abilities, sometimes at the cost of the acting, but that rarely matters in a production that creates some many lovely scenes including carollers with projected snow, the atmospheric and sinister future, and the embracing charm of the Cratchit’s home. Arguably the Cratchit’s could look slightly more poverty-stricken and ragged than they do here but that falls aside as the cast sing a bewitching version of Silent Night while Scrooge sees miners and lighthouse keepers celebrating Christmas.
There are a few versions of Dickens’s famous tale available at the moment, but this is the one to see. The beautiful setting of Middle Temple Hall fits perfectly with John Risebero’s design and lends an ancient feel to this much-told story. This version of A Christmas Carol is a charming seasonal treat that should convince even the most cynical to wish everyone a merry Christmas.