A Tale of Two Cities – ACT Review

Director Howard Raw
Musical Director Richard Lord
The stories and characters of Hugo, Orczy, Stevenson and, of course, Dickens, are so brilliantly crafted that they transfer into perfect theatre. Dickens himself re-enacted scenes from his creations as part of his lecture tours. His characters are even borrowed to tell their stories before their lives within their novels as in the recent BBC drama “Dickensian”.
I suppose it all started with Bart’s “Oliver!” The next mile stone has to be “Les Misérables”. The latest release for community theatre is Jill Santoriello’s 2008 award-winning Broadway musical, “A Tale of Two Cities” based on the novel by Charles Dickens.
All of Dickens’ novels were published in weekly serial form. A Tale of Two Cities is set in London, Paris and its outskirts between 1775 and 1793. It is a story of the morally good Sydney Carton, Charles Darnay, Doctor Manette and Lucie  Manette demonstrating the destruction of love and hate.
To bring to the stage this story with its multiple scenes, Scenic Projects provided a very workable skeletal composite set. Enabling the drama to unfold the stage manager Paul Shiel and the stage staff had a mammoth job before them. Whoever was on “the book” cueing also had their work cut out. All was achieved with the minimal of glitches; this was team work at its best.
The lighting created mood and atmosphere. The sound, however, was not quite balanced and, at times, unsupportive. The costume plot by The Boyz was of the period giving a fine example of theatrical costuming.
To create something new with a show when there are so many successful similar styled themed musicals is a challenge. The director who has a reputation for his detailed company work brought out the drama and didn’t neglect Dickens’ original intentions.
The score is enjoyable and each number is an extension of the dialogue adding to the story telling. The musical director achieved vocal heights with the cast and the reading of the score and the musicians playing brought out the best in the music.
The casting was good; there are so many rich characters to portray. The part of the narrator in the book is anonymous but for the musical version it is given to Madame Défage which is a character that cannot appreciate love and seeks revenge even becoming bloodthirsty, perhaps not quite the right attributes for an impartial narrator.
Everyone was a character contributing to the drama and the ensemble playing was very evident. There were many well delivered cameo roles. In such a dark drama Dickens’ humour was allowed to surface. Cruncher, played by Michael Mills, kept the lighter side of the story in focus.
Nephew of the evil Marquis, St Evermonde is Charles Darnay who takes his mother’s maiden name and moves to London to distance himself from his uncle and ends up owing his life to Carton. Phil Swift was very watchable as the French aristocrat.
Doctor Manette, wrongly imprisoned who writes and conceals a letter that brings about the fate of Sydney Carton, was sympathetically portrayed by John Huyton. The good doctors devoted daughter is Lucie, who marries Darnay and is loved by Carton. Playing the heroine, Rachel Brierley gave a performance filled with such understanding and truth.
The only light in Sydney Carton’s drunken wasteful life is Lucie. He is the real hero of the story. Peter Norris’s performance had such detail and depth – he captured the character totally.
This North West premiere by this company created an enjoyable evening of musical and dramatic theatre.

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