17th Feb – 20th Feb 2016 at The Gracie Fields Theatre. Reviewed by Sharon Drummond National Operatic and Dramatic Association (NODA)
This was the North West Premier of this Musical and for any society to choose a show which is completely unfamiliar is a brave choice. It has its advantages of course in that there can be no comparison with productions seen before and in this case some of the audience may know the story due to the book on which it was based being a Dickens novel. But the musical score was a new one to me and I haven’t read Dickens for many years.
This show had 26 named cast members and many more chorus members. The show was narrated throughout but to be honest I found this really distracting and seemed to slow the show down rather than do what was intended. It was read by Madam Defarge but in a clipped British accent which didn’t fit her French character.
The set looked effective and filled the stage well and I liked the scenes behind the gauze but depending on where you were sat in the audience some of the scenes were blocked by the enormous scenery and behind posts on the upper set. The other thing that slowed the show down was the moving of the set, which was noisy and left stage crew in sight whilst scenes had started.
The lighting whilst being effective in most scenes missed a few cues as did the sound.
The costumes and props were fabulous and suited the period and characters. The band whilst out of sight sounded very good but drowned some of the numbers making it difficult to make out the lyrics. However the numbers in the main sounded great with strong harmonies which had obviously been worked on hard in rehearsals. The commitment to teaching & learning the new songs was evident with great performances from the principals.
And so to the cast. Sydney Carlton was brilliantly played by Peter Norris whose delivery and diction in both songs and dialogue was clear and well executed. The part needed humour and pathos in equal measure and Peter certainly delivered this,
The other male lead part, Charles Darnay was well played by Phil Swift who had lovely vocals especially in falsetto but some of his dialogue and diction wasn’t clear. His scenes with Rachel Brierly who played Lucie had great chemistry between the two. Rachel as Lucie was another fabulous performance with gorgeous vocals and touching acting.
John Huyton who played Dr Manette, Lucies father put in a touching portrayal with lovely vocals and Ann Stubbs as Miss Pross seemed to get all the funny lines which were delivered with experience and flair.
Ernest Defarge was well played with great vocals by Martin Bradbury and Dawn Sloman as Madame Defarge had strong beautiful vocals on great numbers but the role especially with the mix of the narration part lacked direction, depth and continuity.
Most of the supporting cast put in good performances but as with all Dickens there were so many it was hard to follow.
For me as a first time watcher I really enjoyed most of the musical numbers which were varied, well performed and had a feel of Les MIserables but the story itself was drawn out and slowed down by so many scenes and the changes that went with them.
The society however should be congratulated on the staging of this new show as it was clear that a real commitment was shown by all involved.