Review: A Christmas Carol – London Theatre 1

How do you make the perfect Christmas show? It’s easy really, you just take an old classic, put it in a truly awesome and appropriate setting, add an amazingly talented cast and suddenly you have Antic Disposition’s production of A Christmas Carol at Middle Temple Hall.

Let’s be honest, we all know the story. Evil moneylender Ebenezer Scrooge (David Burt) is in his cold, miserable counting house on Christmas Eve with only his Clerk, Bob Cratchit (David Hunter) for company when in rushes his nephew Fred (Alex Hopper) to wish him the joy of the season. After a bit of an altercation, Scrooge sends Fred away and shuts up shop for the night. When Scrooge returns to his home, he has a vision of his deceased partner Jacob Marley (Chris Courtenay). Later that night, the vision becomes a reality as Jacob visits Ebenezer and basically warns him to change his ways or else. In an attempt to help his former partner, Marley has arranged for Scrooge to be visited that night by three more spirits – The Ghost of Christmas Past (Katie Lovell), The Ghost of Christmas Present (David Anthony) and a third ghost whose details we won’t go into here.

Over the course of these visitations, Scrooge meets friends, including his old flame Belle (Victoria Hope), learns more about the Cratchit family – Bob, His wife (Andrea Sadler) and their children Martha (Kerry Loosemore), Peter (Dean Riley) and Tiny Tim (Harley Gallacher or Leo Mann) – and hopefully gets a better understanding of the true meaning of Christmas from his ghostly guides. Not to give anything away but the ending involves a giant turkey as big as the boy (Archie Stevens or Miles Roughly) sent to go and buy him.

A Christmas Carol Bob Cratchit (David Hunter) Tiny Tim (LeoMann)

This is the second version of A Christmas Carol I have seen recently and is the best live version I have ever seen. Every single aspect of this production was perfect right from the start. The adaptation by Ben Horslen & John Risebero has taken Charles Dickens’ original story and treated it with a real respect, ensuring that all of the elements of the original are in the final show as well as adding some marvelous touches – for example the use of well-loved Christmas Carols with more appropriate words – of their own. I loved every aspect of the story and even felt the same chills I had as a child when reading about the visit of the final ghost once more.

John Risebero’s set is not overly complicated but manages to convey every place required to tell the story. Taking place in the round, Directors Ben Horslen and John Risebero use every available inch of the performance space and even when the female characters are wearing those large Victorian hooped skirts, it never seems crowded and still retains a wonderfully intimate atmosphere. The music by Musical Director Christopher Peake was lovely and the four piece band really delivered a lovely accompaniment to the story.

Turning to the actors and I have to give full praise to David Burt who, from the moment he walks on and glares at the carol singers, is the definitive Mr Scrooge. David’s acting is so realistic. At one point, Scrooge was standing near me discussing the fate of Tiny Tim with the Ghost of Christmas Present and, as he turned round, there were tears in his eyes – which had the effect of starting me off again. The rest of the cast are equally as good. As well as their featured roles mentioned in the above paragraphs, they all played a variety of other characters and, for me the best example of this was when the Ghost of Christmas Present took Scrooge around the country to see how Christmas was celebrated in places as diverse as a lighthouse and a mine.

I know we are not really meant to talk about the theatre we see shows in but I have to say Middle Temple Hall was a perfect venue for this show. There is such a wonderful air of history and theatre about the place, even the walk from the auditorium to the bar was amazing.

I’m not sure what more I can say about this production of A Christmas Carol, apart from, to me it is the perfect Christmas show for young and old. No matter how jaded and fed up you may be with the whole holiday season, this production will not only lift you up but fill you with the warm glow of Christmas. I truly believe that this version of A Christmas Carol is now the definitive one – even eclipsing ‘The Muppet’s Christmas Carol’ – and I am already thinking about going to see it next Christmas.

Normally after a show, I will discuss it with my companion but in this case, as soon as it finished and the cast took their well deserved curtain calls, he turned to me and said ‘five stars’ and I am not going to argue with him. In fact, I’m going to end this review by raising a glass of mulled wine and wishing everyone reading this a wonderful Christmas. in the words of Tiny Tim, ‘God bless us everyone!’

★★★★★

by Terry Eastham, 24 December 2015

Review: A Christmas Carol – Musical Theatre Review

Middle Temple Hall allows an audience to step back in time and enter into the world of Scrooge with its site-specific stage space. Stepping away from the city’s busy streets, the theatre offers a calm serenity and a chance to embrace a time of hopefulness in 17th Century London.

Award-winning company Antic Disposition’s choice of theatre has a direct link to Charles Dickens himself. While a full-time student studying Law at Middle Temple, the author wrote A Christmas Carol in just six weeks. The location is also featured in many of his stories, indicating that he held quite an emotional bond with the residence. The building was also a familiar to venue to Shakespeare – the first recorded performance of his masterful comedy Twelfth Night took place there.

Dickens’ novella is brought to the stage by directors Ben Horslen and John Risebero, while the music – which includes the most classic of Christmas carols – is moulded by composer Christopher Peake. As designer, Risebero adds a minimalistic approach, subtly bringing the performance together.

David Burt takes on the misery of Ebenezer Scrooge, exuding humbug and gloom towards the festive season. His captivating character unfolds as we see him step back with The Ghost of Christmas Past to his childhood and we begin to see why he is such a wretched character.

While watching Scrooge’s journey to past, present and future, the piece encourages us to feel an empathy for this anti-hero and an understanding as to why he is the way he is. Burt masters this perfectly.

David Hunter gives a sweet performance as Bob Cratchit. His caring and humbling nature is displayed in his love for his children and care for Tiny Tim.

The Christmas carols are performed flawlessly by the ensemble, with Kerry Loosemore, Katie Lovell, Alex Hooper, Victoria Hope, Dean Riley and Andrea Sadler all leaving an impression. The younger cast members include Harley Gallacher and Leo Mann (Tiny Tim) and Miles Roughley and Archie Stevens who alternate as ‘Turkey Boy’.

The performance space allows members of the audience to feel involved, especially when Scrooge stands directly in front of them, taking in his Christmas past. The lighting (Tom Boucher) adds to the the eerie atmosphere as the ghosts come to life.

It is a great tradition to revisit Christmas tales during the festive period and each story helps to show what the season is all about. A Christmas Carol reminds us of our moral obligation to help those less fortunate than ourselves, to be compassionate and giving, and not just at this time of year. Valuing family, friendship and love heeds the Christmas message of hope and joy.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

by Molly Kerrigan, 29 December 2015

Review: A Christmas Carol by BritishTheatre.com

Surely any Christmas without at least one visit to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, could not really be called Christmas. Such is the extent to which Dicken’s Christmas ghost story has been woven into our culture, that it has seen several production staged across London this year alone and has been adapted for film several times including the beloved Muppet Christmas Carol.

Once again this year, Antic Disposition have bought their formidable skills to staging this festive classic at Middle Temple Hall, a venue associated with Dickens himself. Atmospherically, you realise upon entering this hallowed hall that you are in for a very special staging indeed and the audience were not short-changed.

Antic Disposition founders John Risebero and Ben Horslen have combined with Musical Director Christopher Peake, to create a new version of A Christmas Carol with a slick script and familiar carols with new lyrics that really packs a punch.

Antic Disposition presents A Christmas Carol at Middle Temple Hall

David Hunter and Leo Mann in A Christmas Carol. Photo: Scott Rylander

David Burt takes on the formidable role of Ebenezer Scrooge, full of humbug and bluster, he perfectly inhabits the Lord of humbug and misery, oblivious to the happiness of others over the festive period he is a man whose past has lead him to be miserable in the present. His transition following the visit of three ghostly spectres is revelatory. You can literally see the shadow of misery lift as he visits occasions past, present and future early on Christmas morning.

David Hunter is a perfect Bob Cratchit. He is as caring and loving a father as Tiny Tim, Martha, Peter and Mrs M could want. The company for this production take on many parts each to inhabit this cautionary tale. There are wonderful performances from Alex Hopper s Fred, Dean Riley as Peter Cratchit, Andrea Sadler as Mrs Cratchit, and David Anthony and Chris Courtenay as The Ghosts Of Christmas Present and the Ghost of Jacob Marley Respectively

Scrooge’s overnight journey is perhaps no more powerful that when we are shown the future of Tiny Tim if Scrooge fails to amend his ways. Leo Mann’s Tiny Tim is a delight and Bob’s sorrow at his passing palpable.

The tight musical ensemble under the direction of Christopher Peake was able to create a suitably eerie soundscape and gave the acting ensemble backing for some wonderful choral singing throughout that really gave the piece atmosphere aplenty.

Antic Disposition presents A Christmas Carol at Middle Temple Hall

Chris Courtenay and David Burt in A Christmas Carol. Photo: Scott Rylander

I have to admit that the uncredited Ghost Of Christmas yet to come gave me chills as it glided across the floor leading Scrooge to a gravestone that would untimately prove to be his own.

I would dare anyone not to be moved by this wonderful Christmas offering. It certainly gave this reviewer goosebumps and comes highly recommended. Listening to the news today and hearing about current states of homelessness in London at Christmas, it is good to be reminded that compassion and charity are important to society no matter what the year.

This production really is a must see this Christmas.

★★★★

by BritishTheatre.com, 23 December 2015

Review: A Christmas Carol by The Reviews Hub

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.

★★★★

by Reviews Hub, 24 December 2015

Review: A Christmas Carol by Plays To See

Antic Disposition’s A Christmas Carol takes place in the atmospheric Middle Temple Hall, which dates back to the sixteenth century, and which Dickens himself attended as a law student from 1839. The Hall, which is usually used as a dining room, might seem a surprising choice for a venue, but it lends itself beautifully to theatre. The audience is seated around the stage area, making for an intimate production where actors and audience are in close contact throughout.

The production team has done well, making clever use of a space not designed for sophisticated theatrical effects: lights are used throughout the show to convey various impressions, and there is excellent use of sound effects. Given the small cast and limited possibility for special effects, characters often end up acting without other actors or props for support, but all acquit themselves well. Only a few props are used, but to great effect, evoking a sense of scene without crowding the stage.

This version of the story is a musical, taking the tunes of popular Christmas carols but adapting the lyrics to fit with the subject matter of the play; this is nicely in keeping with the theme of the tale, and is executed well. The singing from all actors is impressive, and the acting excellent all round: especially David Burt’s Scrooge, whose initial grumpiness is worn away to reveal a gruff tenderness; David Hunter as the admirably cheerful Bob Cratchitt; and Harley Gallacher as his enchanting son, Tiny Tim.

In such a striking setting, the darker elements of the story are inevitably drawn out, and moments of genuine dread and sorrow are achieved; however, the actors are skilful, and also provide a lot of comedy, creating a balance of emotions throughout the production. Through a combination of excellent acting, clever writing, and magnificent setting, this is an interpretation of A Christmas Carol to warm the heart and get anyone – even Ebeneezer Scrooge – in the Christmas spirit.

★★★★

by Nicola Watkinson – Plays To See, 24 December 2015

Review: A Christmas Carol at Middle Temple Hall

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.

A Christmas Carol
Scott Rylander

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.

★★★★

by Ginger Hibiscus

Henry V in France

Chris is composer and musical director for Antic Disposition’s production of Henry V.

Marking both the company’s 10th anniversary and the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, award-winning British theatre company Antic Disposition bring Shakespeare’s most stirring history play to Périgord and Quercy in a bold new production.

England’s idealistic army marches to war, certain of a swift and glorious victory. France proudly rallies to defend her borders from invasion. But as nations clash, it is the common soldiers who pay the ultimate price in the bloody mud of the battlefield.

Performed in English “in this best garden of the world, our fertile France”, Henry V is an accessible and fast-paced evening of entertainment, celebrating the complex historical relationship between our two nations – from the Hundred Years War to the Entente Cordiale.