Antic Disposition specialises in “presenting innovative interpretations of classic plays…..in historic buildings and unusual non-theatre spaces”.
Since Christmas 2012 the company has presented its adaptation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in the mid-16th century Middle Temple Hall in the City of London. This spectacular venue, in which Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was first staged, adapts splendidly to Dickens’ tale, almost as if it were made for it, and one reason, one hesitates to say the main reason, for attending this particular production is to be able to sit in the Hall and gaze at the magnificent double barrel-vaulted ceiling and walls decorated with almost countless coats of arms. In the interval, one can explore some of the rest of the building and portraits of famous legal brains of the past.
Directors Ben Horslen and John Riseboro’s adaptation is very faithful to Dickens’ original, being a serious, meaningful story, well told, using music, mostly Christmas carols, adapted and woven into the fabric by Nick Barstow.
Ebenezer Scrooge is played totally straight with not a jot of caricature by David Burt, who is able to flesh out much of the motivation which is present in Dickens’ writing. His is a subtle, understated portrayal, and as such is very successful.
Bob Cratchit, Scrooge’s downtrodden clerk is also played realistically and touchingly by Richard Dempsey. Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, is given a suitably upbeat performance by Jack Heydon, who also lifts the spirits during musical numbers by his trumpet and flugel playing.
Richard Holt as Marley’s Ghost is suitably chilling, weighed down as he is by chains, and Michaela Bennison and McCallam Connell impress as the other two ghosts.
Megan Ashley adds to the proceedings with her accordion and oboe playing as well as her brief portrayal of Ebenezer’s betrothed. How on earth could she ever have considered marrying him we ask ourselves! Matt Whipps makes as much of his secondary role of Peter Cratchit as the script allows.
There is a welcome emphasis on Victorian Christmas music in this production, even if “In The Bleak Midwinter” which is used a great deal, was not composed until 1906, sixty-three years after Dickens’ story. The effective four-piece band is under the direction of Ben Everett-Riley, as is the choral music which is particularly effective.
At times, diction could be clearer in the acoustic of Middle Temple Hall and Act Two would benefit from a little pruning, as this was when some of the younger members of the audience became a little restless. In addition, the lighting (design not credited) fails to light anyone at the very front of the stage, for example, Scrooge when he speaks directly to the audience towards the end of Act Two, as well as being too slow on some cues, leaving actors in darkness.
The predominantly adult audience clearly appreciated and enjoyed A Christmas Carol – although well known, this was something a bit different and well worth searching out, especially in Middle Temple Hall.
Review by John Groves
Step off the bustle of Fleet Street and journey through cobbled alleyways and gas-lit courtyards to arrive at the hidden historical gem Middle Temple Hall – a location well-known to Dickens himself, who studied law at the ancient institution.
Decked with boughs of holly, filled with the scent of mulled wine and mince pies and brimming with festive cheer, enter the magnificent wood-panelled hall and immerse yourself in this joyous adaptation of the beloved Christmas classic for everyone aged 6 and over.
A Christmas Carol
Book and Lyrics by Ben Horslen and John Risebero
Music by Nick Barstow
20–29 December 2022
Middle Temple Hall
Middle Temple Lane
London, EC4Y 9AT