He’s a drunk, he’s a rascal and he’s the reason to spend a night out at Two Cities. Sydney Carton – played by the charismatic Michael Howe – is the hero of this Dickensian musical and the poor sod only wanted another drink. He’ll have to make do with sipping tea.
Set during the French Revolution, the young aristocrat Charles Darnay has given up his inheritance as a Marquis and set sail for London. Before the boat has docked in port he’s met the love of his life, been framed for treason and helped an old man in need. The Dover-Calais crossing has never been so eventful.
I am not an expert on all things Misérables, but even I could see the parallels: French peasants, redemption and a lot of singing – it’s all there. The lead actress – Jennifer Hepburn – is even an alumnus of Les Mis. I don’t mean this as a criticism but it is so glaring that it needs mentioning. Chances are if you like what’s playing at the Queen’s Theatre, this is for you.
Jennifer Hepburn does a fine job as Lucie Manette, the object of Sydney and Charles’s rival affections. Carrying herself with wit and aplomb, she is enticing. ‘Tea’ provides us with a comic montage as the men sit and wait just for the chance to sit besides her. Her duet with Sydney – ‘From Afar’ – closes act one and provided my favourite song in the show; it is heartfelt and tender.
The third party of our love triangle is Charles Darnay, a hopeless do-gooder. Charles always acts in the noblest way and naively supposes everyone else does as well. He exists as a mirror we should compare ourselves to, but we know we are wanting and so we dislike him. Jonathan Ansell does the best he can with the character but he is often overshadowed.
The comic relief comes from the spinster matron Miss Pross and the portly banker Mr Lorry. Both are played by seasoned veterans and revel in their parts. The song ‘I Remain Unwed’ had the audience giggling away, and they had many other wonderful moments together. Comedy is well used in this production to keep you engaged whilst the love story trundles on.
The pacing is very well done and we are guided through a lot of different story lines that come together nicely. The heroes are all very heroic and the villains all very villainous. But you didn’t come to be surprised, you came for the sentiment – and the pretty costumes. Two Cities delivers on both and the crowd’s applause grew after each musical number.
Sydney Carton is such a charming rogue that he carries this production. The big musical set pieces didn’t move me much, but they weren’t meant for me. If you’re a fan of Les Misérables, Joseph, or any other of the musicals scattered through the CVs of the cast, you will fall for Two Cities. Even non-fans will be moved by the nobility of Sydney Carton. He gets all the best lines too: all together now, “it was the best of times…”
A Tale of Two Cities is playing at the Charing Cross Theatre until 12 May. For more information, see the Charing Cross Theatre website.