Antic Disposition: A Christmas Carol

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For one of our most festive season staples, see A Christmas Carol. Whether it’s a new film, TV show or a radio production, every year brings a fresh adaptation of the classic Dickensian tale.

However this year we’re getting a tried and tested rendition, back by popular demand for its fifth run, and promising to glow brightly over your family’s winter, like a glowing ember. This version is Ben Horslen and John Risebero’s adaptation, and a few weeks ago I was lucky enough to talk to the former about what audiences can expect this time around.

Horslen’s summary is illuminating; audiences should be prepared for a very festive version of the show. It is staged in Middle Temple Hall which itself has a Dickensian connection. ‘We get the very historic flavor of both the hall itself, which is obviously Elizabethan but has nice Dickensian connections because Dickens studied there when he was a law student.’ Horslen goes on to note,‘It’s all sort of going back in time. Very Victorian, hopefully if we get a bit of cold weather it will be nice and Christmassy.’

The choice of venue was intentional and Horslen explains, ‘We discovered the Dickens connection and then that was one of the reasons why we decided to go there because it just felt it like it was too good to be true.’ The pair wanted to make it stay true to the themes of the book, so the show is suitably PG, ‘The message of Christmas, and Dickens message is so family oriented’ says the director, ‘We really wanted it to be a show that people could bring the whole family to, something that’s got some of the fun family musical feel good.’

Despite this being the fifth run, the production is never dated. Horslen explains, ‘We adapt it. over the years it’s changed a lot. So probably the last time we did it two years ago we rescored the whole piece and turned it into an actor musician show. Before that we’d had a little band and then backing tracks, but basically it was just actors singing. We still keep a little band, but now we’ve got a much bigger sound because we’ve got these actual musicians bringing their other talents into the show.’ He dryly observes, ‘So it’s always changing.’

This is not the first time Antic Disposition have tinkered with a classic story, their particular brand of reshaping was a key selling point to an adaptation of Henry V a few years ago. Horslen tells me, ‘we kind of re-imagined as a group of soldiers staging it in the trenches in the first world war and that went down incredibly well with audiences. It was probably the most radical we’ve been with a Shakespeare play.’

Often adaptations are kept traditional and low risk, but that is not the way the pair work. ‘It’s always interesting to see things played around with a bit. It’s been interesting.’ muses Horslen, ‘Obviously its tended to happen quite a lot on the fringe, like it wasn’t happening so much in the bigger theatres, but then there were shows like, Measure for Measure recently where they flipped the genders and played around with that, which was nice to see on a big stage.’

Horslen is keen to point out that they also didn’t want to oversaturate their production, so had taken a break the last few years. He says, ‘We gave it a rest last year while we were adjusting stuff. We did it two years running before that, but usually we do it every other year to build up some anticipation.’ Horslen does admit that there is one extra advantage too, ‘and also it’s quite nice to give us a Christmas off.’

I wondered aloud nearly 200 years after its first publication, if A Christmas Carol still resonates with audiences. Horslen’s adamant that it is still relevant to our politics of today, saying, ‘after 10 years where we’ve had all sorts of cuts to public services and, and provisions for people who have the least in our society, the show and the message of the book cuts to the heart of that. And, and so I think it never, sadly, it never goes away.’

A Christmas Carol is showing at Middle Temple Hall, London 21 – 30 December 2019And you can buy tickets via this link: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/ad1

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