Two Cities, a musical reworking of Dickens’ classic romance transported to Edwardian London and a St Petersburg in the grip of revolution, is the result of a collaboration between composer Howard Goodall and Salisbury Playhouse artistic director Joanna Read, sparked when the pair worked together on Goodall’s The Hired Man in 2003.
I’d love to say it was a triumph - and with work it could be - but there are shortfalls which director Read, who also wrote the book, needs to address to take it forward.
Crucially, the big moments are missing. Both acts fizzle out, static staging of rousing numbers like A New Russia deliver little sense of social upheaval, and blackouts after each song accentuate the episodic nature of the first half and upset the narrative flow. Surprisingly it also lacks a strong emotional hook.
Carton’s unrequited love for Lucy barely registers until very late so it’s a shock when he dashes off to take her husband’s place in front of the firing squad.
But none of this is beyond repair and there is already much in this hugely ambitious piece to applaud. Goodall’s score, although not the sort to send you humming into the night, is richly melodic.
Music director Dane Preece and the cast of 15 do it justice particularly in the big chorale numbers, which are sung with beautiful precision. It’s finely acted too. Rosalie Craig’s feisty heroine and Glyn Kerslake as her damaged father, haunted by the ghosts of his past, stand out.
Mary Doherty, Stefan Bednarczyk and Paul Kemble each contribute well drawn cameos, and there is enough of a physical similarity between David Ricardo-Pearce’s louche Sydney Carton and Ben Goddard’s troubled Edward Ireton to get away with the switch in identities.