BWW Reviews: A CHRISTMAS CAROL, Middle Temple Hall, December 22 2012
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by Gary Naylor
It's oft said that Charles Dickens created the modern Christmas and you don't need to look at many festive biscuit tin lids to give that theory some credence. Sensibly knowing that Christmas is a time for underlining traditions rather than challenging norms (there's 358 more days for that), in 2012's last week Antic Disposition give us a splendidly faithful version of the secular Christmas story - A Christmas Carol.
The tale of the miser visited by spirits over the night of Christmas Eve who show him the consequences of his love of money over his fellow man still carries its bite - especially in these days when government and media insist that "we" have "no money" for the public services that keep the 21st century's poor from the 21st century's workhouses. Much of Dickens' unparalleled ability to render vernacular speech is evident in the script and it's marvellous to hear the melodies of familiar Christmas carols given new lyrics to drive the action forward. Of course, it's a little earnest and more than a little schmaltzy, but Tony Bell's Scrooge is cynical enough to give us plenty of laughs before his seeing of the light, so we don't mind his over-the-top munificence when it turns up. And at least he isn't prancing about singing "Thank You Very Much".
Despite excellent support from the company, especially Haydn Oakley's gentle Bob Cratchit and Elliot Fitzpatrick's rakish Fred, the inevitable star of the show is Middle Temple Hall - so wonderfully lit by Howard Hudson. Just a short walk from Dickens' old stamping ground of Clerkenwell, the Hall captures the London Dickens loved (and feared) within four walls that radiate history. One sometimes wonders whether site-specific work has used its location to best advantage. Not this time - a universal moral is pinned back to its very point of invention and is all the more powerful for it.
A Christmas Carol continues until 30 December.