THE Middle Temple Hall, with its magnificent double hammer-beam roof, was completed in 1573. William Shakespeare performed there. Student Charles Dickens wrote some of his most popular works during his time at the Temple.
So what more fitting and atmospheric venue to perform his classic Christmas Carol? That was how theatre company Antic Disposition thought back in 2012, and since then (with the Covid hiatus) they have performed their version every Christmas. Back again this year for the tenth anniversary of the first shows, the multi-talented 11-strong company performs Ben Horslen and John Risebero’s version, with its original music by Nick Barstow, until 29th December.
The story of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge is so well known that several of its phrases have become part of the language and his name is the personification of an intolerant, curmudgeonly and mean-spirited reaction to Christmas and its traditions.
The hall, usually filled by those reading for the Bar eating their statutory dinners, was packed with eager audience members, thrilled by the magical setting and ready to discover a new take on a beloved story, aided by the excellent four-piece band. If the acoustics can be a bit challenging and some of the lines overwhelmed by the music, it’s made up by the joyful message.
Of course Charles Dickens didn’t gloss over the misery of the poor, and the Antic Disposition version doesn’t even give the poor Cratchit family a tiny chicken for their Christmas feast. It also brings in the miners and seafarers, celebrating the birth of Christ in their own ways.
David Burt has honed his Scrooge to exquisite self-inflicted misery, the essence of uncharitability. But when the ghost of Christmas past lifts the veils on the hopeful, happy moments of his neglected childhood, Ebenezer sheds years of obsessive unhappiness to gambol and cherish.
The performers, who not only act and sing but play a variety of instruments, are Richard Dempsey as Bob Cratchit, Emma Fenney as his wife, Megan Ashley as Belle, Michaela Bennison as the Ghost of Christmas Past, McCallam Connell as the Ghost of Christmas Present, Lucy Ford as Martha, Jack Heydon (a terrific trumpeter!) as Fred, Richard Holt as the chillingly tormented ghost of Jacob Marley, Matt Whipps as Peter and Dylan Hall as Tiny Tim (a role he doubles with Ayrton English).
Scrooge’s Christmas is a visceral night of self-discovery, with a happy ending to send the audience out into the night with joy in their hearts, and mulled wine and mince pies in their tummies.
Once again, the Bath and London based Antic Disposition has created a show that stays true to the original, but shines new light on a timeless story for the benefit of a 21st century audience. Get a ticket if you can, if not for the 2022 season, then for next Christmas. You’ll be glad you made the effort.
Photographs by Scott Rylander.