I didn’t think I was going to enjoy this too much. A musical by an amateur company could go wrong in simply breathtaking ways. Plus I find dialogue on stage hard to follow when spoken, let alone sung. Plus I’d never actually read A Tale of Two Cities and could recall little about it except that the cities in question were Paris and London at the time of the French Revolution. So there would be crowd scenes, mayhem, and possibly accents. I expected to start confused and to gradually become perplexed.
Indeed it threw me right at the start, because it didn’t begin with what’s possibly the most famous opening line in all literature, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Instead it went straight into a murder scene, which can really be only one of those things. Quickly though I found myself following the plot – indeed, caught up in it. To my pleasurable surprise, I was being entertained.
Particularly after the appearance of Sidney Carton, played by Alan Greaney. You hate to single anyone out in an amateur production, especially one with so many great performances, but Carton – or this interpretation of him – really brought the thing alive. Suddenly there was a funny, engaging, cynical, drunken character right next to the centre of the action. Lovely.
Did Dickens really write him as fun as this, or is it Jill Santoriello‘s adaptation? Some people swear to me that he’s a great comic author, but I’ve generally found his humorous characters too clownish to be genuinely funny. Mostly he elicits the sort of half-laugh that means “Yes, I can see how that probably slayed them a hundred and fifty years ago.” But Sidney Carton the dissolute barrister was not only funny, he was… cool. A perfectly modern antihero.
Alas, just after the intermission I suddenly remembered; I may not have read the novel, but the ending of A Tale of Two Cities is almost as famous as the beginning. So I watched an hour and a half of intricate plotting, knowing exactly how it was all going to turn out by surprise.
Yet though it is famous, I think the ending was the weakest part. I’ll try not to give it away here in case you don’t remember it, but the problem is that it’s, well… a bit downbeat.
Actually, quite seriously amazingly downbeat.
Yet musical theatre requires a big closing number, and a downbeat big musical number is… not ideal, I think. To me it seemed a little anticlimactic. It wasn’t the fault of the production – or even the writer, except insofar as she took on a problem that may not actually have a solution. Indeed it is to their credit that it did come off as tragic and dramatic. Dickens always sails close to the sort of melodrama that a modern audience finds hard to take seriously. As Wilde said of another work, one would need a heart of stone not to read the death of Little Nell without laughing. So if it didn’t quite hit the climactic high, it did avoid the pitfall.
But that quibble aside, a really fun evening. Good by any standard, astoundingly good for amateur theatre. And you have just barely got a chance to see it, with one matinée at 2:30 and the closing performance tonight.
- Or Read The Book, Like I Didn’t (gutenberg.org)