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A CHRISTMAS CAROL – Middle Temple Hall, London.

A Christmas CarolThis is a feel-good production dramatising Charles Dickens’ Christmas morality tale.

It begins with Scrooge and a lot of bah-humbuggery, and ends with the extensive cast singing ‘We wish you a merry Christmas,’ and what could be more appropriate for December 23rd than that?

The bonus is the fact that A Christmas Carol is staged under the hammer-beam roof of Middle Temple Hall which dates back to 1573, and has associations with Dickens himself, who considered a career in the law and was a student member of Middle Temple.

There is not much set – a proscenium arch with a Scrooge and Marley sign hanging on it is about it – but the production doesn’t need it. Designer/director John Riseboro has gone for costume to create atmosphere in the main, and that is probably a wise choice given the difficult performance space with the audience on three sides of the action.

To enrich the atmosphere there is a four piece band and coiled with the frequent costume changes as the cast take on multiple roles, this feels like quite a lavish production.

The music is mostly carols with re-cast lyrics. So we open with a version of ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ which is actually a bit threatening. It has to make a point about how Scrooge is corrupting the Christmas spirit, which seems a bit odd and sadly I at least found it difficult to make out too many of the words, even if the sense comes across. Also, Scrooge (David Burt) tends to shout a bit too much at the beginning (the acoustics of Middle Temple Hall don’t help an actor here), but he’s much better after the process of his conversion to festive niceness happens.

If I were to be picky, I thought that Marley’s ghost looked too substantial (and the chains a little too insubstantial) but there’s a good musical number with his fellow ghosts in chains to follow, so that hardly counts for much, and the moment  Scrooge is taken off to see scenes of his past is nicely done, with the ghost of Christmas past in glittery frock, and a startling grey wig pinned with fake holly. There aren’t too many Christmas opportunities missed here.

A great number with Tiny Tim (I think it was Harley Gallagher on the night) dancing very well with Robin Hood and Ali Baba (in more great costumes), and of course when Scrooge gets converted to Christmas goodness it’s all a bit too much.

It doesn’t matter at all though. This is a very good ensemble production with a big cast who sing, dance and caper around to great effect, and those surroundings are wonderful too. When the shadow snow comes falling down at the end, you feel like buying more presents, or at least having another mulled wine.

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Reviewed 23/12/15

By Michael Spring

22nd-30th December 2015
Middle Temple Hall, London EC4Y 9AT

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