Musicals Review




A Tale of Two Cities
A new musical




Based on the novel by Charles Dickens


Book by
Steven David Horwich
David Soames


Music by David Pomeranz

Lyrics by
Steven David Horwich


Upstairs at the Gatehouse


27 September - 2 November






1ay Couzen

A review by Rosie Fiore for EXTRA! EXTRA!


Ovation Production brings us a brand-new musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ magnificent tale of the French revolution and its consequences, both political and personal. Set in the eponymous two cities (London and Paris), spanning a period of some 15 years and featuring a bewilderingly large cast of characters; it’s a tall order to render in a theatrical setting within a two-hour time-span.

In many ways, this ambitious production is “the best of times and the worst of times”. It has much to recommend it: slick, intelligent direction and a company of performers who are universally talented and committed. Yet there are aspects which left me shaking my head in disbelief, and wondering who was responsible for certain creative choices.

The first, and most obvious is this: if you choose to adapt a classic novel, written by arguably one of the greatest writers in the English language, would you not gratefully make use of his rich and glorious prose in your text and song lyrics? Barely a line of Dickens seems to have made it into the rather banal script. It seems like a great opportunity lost. Lucy Manette’s heartbreakingly beautiful “weep for me” speech when she meets her long-lost father in the garret in Paris is translated into a Celine-Dionesque song with the chorus “Cry”. Why? It’s a bit like performing Hamlet and having the Prince enter for his famous soliloquy and begin, “I’ve been thinking about doing myself in, but I can’t decide.”

While it’s obvious that you cannot include every detail of a 450-page novel in a two-and-a-half hour play, I did feel that there were some very odd plotting choices. The novel tells its story in a linear timeline, yet this production chose to begin with Sidney Carton, telling his tale retrospectively to a poor seamstress. While most theatre-goers may know the outcome of the story, it removes all dramatic tension if it is clear from the beginning how the story will end. A song hinting at a possible romance between Miss Pross, Lucy Manette’s nurse, and Jarvis Lorry, banker and friend to the Manette family, had no basis in the novel and seemed to have been inserted rather crudely for comic effect.

On a technical note, I found it both odd and unnecessary that every performer wore a radio microphone. The performance space is really very small, the audience is extremely close and the accompanying pianists don’t make enough noise to merit this. It’s distracting, as we are close enough to see microphones taped to foreheads, incongruous with period costumes, and the amplification causes an odd but perceptible delay to the sound.

These negative observations aside, the performers deserve extravagant praise. It is a mammoth undertaking, and every member of the fifteen-strong company gave his or her all throughout the performance. Several play multiple roles, exiting (or being murdered) as an aristocrat and returning as a revolutionary minutes later. The story moves at a cracking pace, and the company work like a machine, moving furniture and changing scenes with well-rehearsed rapidity.

There genuinely wasn’t a weak link on the stage, but a few performances were notable: New Zealander Tim Benton’s Sidney Carton was measured, kind and vocally very powerful (although perhaps not as tortured as Dickens’ original character). Richard Stirling as Jarvis Lorry offered fine comic relief and Tim English and Susan Raasay as Monsieur and Madame Defarge were menacing and energetic. Their duet early in the proceedings, telling of the list of condemned aristocrats knitted into Madame Defarge’s scarf, was the musical highlight for me. It had some of the grotesque humour and power of ‘Master of the House’, from Les Miserables.

I’m not entirely convinced that this show has the singable, memorable songs that make a great musical: much of the music sounds very similar, but it’s difficult to judge when the performers are accompanied by just two pianos and the vocal harmonies are basic. Should the show transfer to the West End, I’m sure the musical arrangements would be richer and more varied.

All in all, A Tale of Two Cities, the Musical is a mixed bag – probably not the right choice for Dickens purists, but a lively, energetic and brave production, which will delight many.





Tuesdays - Saturdays 7.30pm
Sundays 4pm
Tickets: Tues/Wed/Thurs/Fri /Sun £12 (conc £10)
Saturday £15 (conc £12)

Box Office: +44 (0)20 8340 3488
Email: events@ovationproductions.com

Upstairs at the Gatehouse
The Gatehouse
Highgate Village
N6 4BD

Sidney Carton - Tim Benton
Charles Darnay - Michael Stacey
Lucie Manette - Jennifer Hepburn
Dr Manette - John Fleming
Jarvis Lorry - Richard Stirling
Miss Pross - Sarah Dearlove
Madame Defarge - Susan Raasay
Monsieur Defarge - Tim English
Marquis De Evremonde - Rufus Graham
Gabelle - Tom Murphy
Barsad - Paddy Crawley
Gaspard - Timothy Wright
Stryver - Adam Booth
Seamstress - Amy Coombes




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