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A Christmas Carol (Susan Elkin reviews)

Show: A Christmas Carol

Society: London (professional shows)

Venue: Middle Temple Hall. Middle Temple Lane, London EC4Y 9AT

Credits: By Charles Dickens. Adaoted by Ben Horslen and John Riseboro. Music by Nick Barstow Antic Disposition. Presented by Antic Disposition

A Christmas Carol

3 stars

A Christmas Carol (2022). Photo: Lidia Crisafulli

This adaption of Dickens’s most famous evocation of Christmas has been around for ten years but this was the first time I’d seen it. Why did I wait so long? It’s attractive, poignant, wry and the live music is a treat.

With a cast of eleven it’s more ambitious in scale than many fringe shows these days and we start with a choral arrangement of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen with emphasis on its minor key, new words and David Burt (excellent) as Scrooge crossly dismissing them.

Staged in a square playing space with seating on three sides facing Middle Temple Hall’s famous Elizabethan carved oak screen you could hardly have a more atmospheric setting – especially as I attended a 3pm matinee throughout which it gradually grew darker.

The abridgment of the story is lighter here than in many accounts of A Christmas Carol. The show runs for just over two hours (with interval for mulled wine and mince pies – obviously) so it’s leisurely and pretty faithful to Dickens. That means, however, that it’s a tad wordy in places.

The sound and light provides a very creepy ambience especially at the entrance of Richard Holt, clanking and grey in his chains as Jacob Marley’s Ghost and the build up of the tension before the appearance of each of the three spirits.

In a generally strong cast, Matt Whipps is warmly convincing as Bob Cratchit and I liked McCallam Connell as the Ghost of Christmas Present. There’s a fine performance from Jack Heydon as Scrooge’s nephew Fred – cheerful, decent and enjoying life: the old man’s opposite in so many ways. Heydon is also a pretty good trumpeter playing lots of top lines, flourishes, fanfares and so on in the music which permeates this show. The role of Tiny Tim is shared. At the performance I saw Dylan Hall found all the poignancy the role requires.

Nick Barstow’s music – delightful arrangements played by a band of four plus several actor musos in the cast – includes many Christmas Carols or references to them. I particularly liked the folksy arrangement of ‘Tis the Season to Be Jolly upliftingly danced as a quasi-Circassian Circle at Mr Fezziwig’s party. Long before they became inextricably linked with Christmas, Carols were dances after all.

All in all it’s an enjoyable show which really “does” Christmas with aplomb but it comes with a problem.  There are a lot of new words in the sung numbers relating to Victorian social conditions – or at least I think they do. The trouble with Middle Temple Hall is that, stunningly atmospheric as it is, the acoustics are not great and I couldn’t hear most of the sung words which is a pity.
Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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