It was certainly Dickensian in Colchester in May, as Great Expectations opened at the Mercury, and Platform staged a musical version of Dickens’s historical saga. This 1990 work by Dave Ross, Neil Parker and Michael Mullane is destined to always live in the shadow of that other blockbuster, hugely successful, French Revolution musical, and for good reason. Unfortunately, this is a show of Two Standards, the negative is that the music and lyrics are dire. It feels like a sub standard Les Miz and sounds worryingly familiar. The pub number at the Gorgon’s Head is Master of the House, The Time For Us marches close to One More Day. Given that the Reign of Terror and the guillotine was such a horrific time, the musical refuses to go to that dark place and instead gives us a kind of Oom Pah Pah number. The huge positive though is that the company are excellent, with some fine performances rising above the banality of the lyrics, and Andrew Hodgon’s skilled direction fills the stage with an energetic ensemble.

This being Dickens, the plot is complex, set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution, focussing on Dr Manette and his release from the Bastille after 18 years, his relocation to London to live with his daughter Lucie and the love that grows between her and aristocrat in exile Charles Darney, with his friend Sydney Carton loving Lucie but keeping it platonic. Thomas Pleasant, Cally Kline and Wayne Setford are all excellent in these roles, beautiful singing and conviction. On the revolution side, Michael Cook gives and outstanding performance as Defarge, equalled by Amanda Powell as his wife, her need for revenge making her quite deranged. Special mention must go to Jackie Grant, bringing on point much needed comedy to the part of Miss Pross, and I was very impressed by young Tabitha Luckham, totally involved in the show as Ladybird. The chorus convince as blood thirsty revolutionary’s, I wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of them!

Although it cuts the acting space, it was a joy to see the excellent band of Phil Toms, Guy Fade and Hannah Wentworth centre stage, and the costumes and staging can only be described as epic! Although I feel the material didn’t serve the performers well, this is by no means a flop, in fact I admire the ambition and skills of this skilled and talented company.

Paul T DaviesA Tale Of Two Cities Sally Parkinson Photography