Story, set, musical accompaniment (just a pair of pianists – more than adequate – tucked away in the corners of the stage) have all been stripped down, with director Paul Nicholas relying on a handful of chairs and upturned barrels to conjure up Paris and London around the time of the French Revolution.
Told in flashback, Steven David Horwich and David Soames’ filleted adaptation reveals the complicated history behind the decision of world-weary, former inebriate English barrister Sydney Carton (a bland Michael Howe) to choose death in order to save a French aristocrat from the guillotine.
The emphasis is more on the central love story than the politics of the time, with incidents crucial to the plot slipped in so swiftly that blink and you’d miss them.
Jonathan Ansell makes for a very wimpish Charles Darnay (hard to believe he’d get the girl) though there’s more life in the smaller roles – a crusty old bachelor banker enchanted by a little girl’s charms and Carton’s lovesick fellow barrister at least have distinct personalities.
And the revolutionary Madame Defarge, knitting needles and a remarkably long scarf in hand, is fanatically impassioned in her demand for death to all aristos.
But much of the time, Nicholas gives his cast little to do but stand and deliver, and some of the lyrics really shouldn’t have reached a paying public. Still, two hundred years after his birth, Dickens storytelling skill wins through in this cut-price cousin of Les Mis.
Review by Louise Kingsley
Charing Cross Theatre, The Arches, Villiers Street, WC2N 6NL
£24.50 – £29.50
Photo: Mitzi de Margary