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 The Theatreguide.London Review

A Tale of Two Cities
Charing Cross Theatre   Spring 2012

This modest musical, previously tried out in a pub theatre, serves as a showcase for a number of talented and hard-working artists. But its own merits aren't impressive enough to warrant an enthusiastic recommendation. 

The adaptation of Dickens' novel by Steven David Horwich and David Soames, lyrics by Horwich and music by David Pomeranz are all serviceable at best, without ever catching fire or being particularly memorable. (Plot reminder needed? A family is caught up in the French Revolution and the husband sentenced to death, but a friend substitutes and sacrifices himself.)

The story is told in flashback by Sydney Carton as he awaits execution, an awkward device evidently designed to allow the novel's famous opening lines - 'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times....' - to be shoehorned in. (Later the equally iconic closing lines will be equally awkwardly musicalised.) 

Within that frame the play follows three interwoven plot lines, each with its own musical vocabulary the romance and marriage of Charles Darnay and Lucie Manette, Sydney Carton's alternately comic and sad unrequited love for Lucie, and the revolutionary mob led by the bloodthirsty Mme Defarge. 

Composer Pomeranz and lyricist Horwich seem most at home with the romantic songs of the Charles-Lucie plot, with their attempts at operatic trios and revolutionary anthems merely reminding us that this isn't Les Miserables. 

Director Paul Nicholas is unable to disguise the fact that he is depicting the French Revolution with twenty performers, two pianos and a few wooden chairs, and the production does have an impoverished fringe feel to it. Nicholas seems particularly at a loss with the book's occasional gestures toward humour, with an uncomfortable tea party and an 'I don't want to marry you' song for a secondary couple falling flat. 

Michael Howe is a mournful Carton, capturing some of the man's discovery of his own honour but little of his sardonic humour. Jonathan Ansell is solid as Darnay and Jennifer Hepburn pretty as Lucie, while Jemma Alexander has been directed, not entirely inappropriately, to play Mme Defarge as the Wicked Witch of the West. 

And, to ride a personal hobby horse for a moment, sound design is particularly clumsy, with everyone's voices disconnected and homogenised and coming from Someplace Up There, so that the actual human beings onstage could be lip-syncing for all we can tell.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Tale of Two Cities - Charing Cross Theatre 2012    

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