A Tale of Two Cities
Graham Whalan | 04 Oct 2019 13:48pm
No-one could accuse the Ulverston Amateur Operatic Society of a lack of courage or ambition. In an area which is very well served with amateur companies, the Ulverston Society have often been brave enough to bring a much less familiar and untried production to local audiences. Their latest venture falls into this category with an innovative staging of Jill Santoriello’s A Tale of Two Cities, based of course on Charles Dickens’ epic novel.
This is a piece with a complex plot and a complex score, and it demands much of the players, and indeed the audience. Set in revolutionary France with underlying themes of social injustice, sacrifice and redemption, comparisons with the phenomenal ‘Les Miserables’ are somewhat inevitable but, putting that firmly aside, under the capable direction of the ever-reliable Brenda Hindle UAOS’s production stands alone in its own right as a vivid, stirring and engaging piece of theatre.
That this is the case owes as much to the staging and orchestration as it does to the players. In addition to conventional scenery, this production makes extensive use of high-definition back projection which not only enables seamless changes of scene (of which the complex plot demands many) it also gives the action an extra layer of vivid reality. As for the orchestration Musical Director Ciara Myakicheff-Preston’s interpretation of the difficult score is really of first-class quality, adding real emotional impact to both the individual performances and rousing choral pieces.
With regard to the players, it is the inter-play between the two male leads, Charles Darnay (played by Adam Atkinson) and Sidney Carton (Rob O’Hara), which drives the plot. Of the two I thought Rob O’Hara as Sidney Carton has the more convincing edge, perhaps because he is a more interesting and complex character. He manages to develop the character as each scene unfolds, with the final scene between him and the poor luckless seamstress at the guillotine being especially touching. Paul O’Neill’s strong vocals also help him to portray the fragility and haunted quality of Dr Manette successfully. It’s a pity he has less to do here than I remember from the novel. Seamus Doran is suitably pitiless and arrogant as the Marquis St Evremonde, and stands in sharp contrast to the basic decency and avuncular quality of Mr Jarvis Lorry, assuredly portrayed by the experienced Ken Hindle. The equally experienced Russ Palmer and Andy Bond are also a very convincing double-act in their characterisations of ‘Resurrectonist’ Jerry Cruncher and the devious John Barsad.
For me however, the stand-out performances came from the female members of the cast. Lucie Manette is usually seen as a rather insipid character in the story whereas here, in Michelle Larcombe’s hands, her acting and vocal skills render her as a character of much greater credence and depth. Meanwhile Yvonne Patterson, as Madame Defarge, proves more than equal to the task of conveying an intimidating fire-breathing sort of rage in her uncompromising lust for revenge. Her rendition of ‘Out of Sight, Out of Mind’ will literally make your hair stand on end. I also enjoyed Jenny Schofield’s rather fierce and ‘no nonsense’ Miss Pross, perhaps the nearest thing in this tale to Dickens’ usual army of quirky and colourful characters.
In short UAOS have again risen to the many challenges posed by this production and have created a thoroughly stirring and successful piece of theatre. All the cast give strong and committed performances, supported by top-class orchestration and a high standard of production values. Not having seen the full body of UAOS’s past work I can’t say that this is a far, far better thing than they have ever done, but it is surely up there on the short list.