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REVIEW: A tale of two cities Upstairs at the Gatehouse Highgate

PUBLISHED: 15:54 09 October 2008 | UPDATED: 15:28 07 September 2010

Until November 2 FIVE STAR RATING Dickens unforgettable characters come alive on a musical stage and this has all the hallmarks of becoming a long-standing show, writes Aline Waites THE French

A tale of two cities

Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Highgate

Until November 2

FIVE STAR RATING

Dickens'unforgettable characters come alive on a musical stage and this has all the hallmarks of becoming a long-standing show, writes Aline Waites

THE French Revolution is a gift for the creators of musicals, and the Dickens version of the story is probably the best ever with the author's genius for creating unforgettable characters.

Sidney Carton must rank with Rhett Butler as one of the most fascinating romantic heroes ever.

A drunken rake reformed by his love of a good woman who sacrifices himself for his preferred rival is irresistible.

Tim Benton as Carton is personable, with a resounding baritone and his final number tears the theatre apart.

The lovers Lucie (Jennifer Hepburn) and Charles (Michael Stacey) are never as interesting as the other characters, but they have good numbers to sing and they take advantage of every opportunity - as do the rest of the company, who have all got great voices.

Especially impressive are the revolutionary Defarges played by Tim English and Susan Raasay.

A highlight is their early number The Freedom We See and the intensity builds around them until Madame Defarge's final aria of hatred and revenge. John Fleming as the long-suffering Dr Manette has great sweetness of voice and gives a heartbreaking performance.

There are sprightly scenes - the relationship between Jarvis Lorry (Richard Stirling) and Miss Pross (Sarah Dearlove) bring light relief to the somewhat bleak story.

The small venue is perfect for this kind of production.

The audience is so close that they are almost part of the action, seemingly surrounded as they are by the sound. Nothing needs to be said of the expertise of the writers, who are all at the top of their professions.

The music and lyrics fit the story perfectly and I see no reason why this production should not have a lasting afterlife. This is a strictly concert version of the musical with just two pianos and a minimalist setting.

It is beautiful to look at - like a series of paintings by Jacques-Louis David, the lighting of Howard Hudson against a plain dark background highlights the tasteful grouping by director Paul Nicholas and the appropriate costumes by Mike Lees. A stunning production - not to be missed.

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