Arts Reviews

A Tale of Two Cities @ Theatre Royal

Artistic, authentic and absolutely stunning. For those in the stalls waiting for the play to begin, the gentle singing of the cast could be heard, the first example of a sparing, yet effective use of such song. The play opens, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”, bringing to life, gram for gram, the gravity and the drama of the original opening.

The costumes were beautiful, the stage was quickly and convincingly transformed from a picturesque and tranquil stately home, to the slums of Paris so well in fact that it would make a fine addition to the aesthetics at the Queen’s Theatre. However, this degree of start to finish immersion cannot be credited to aesthetics alone. Mike Poulton’s adaptation has succeeded in bringing the absolute best out of Dickens’ prose, it is the distilled whiskey of a well-aged crop.

Cheerful and easy in places, harrowing and hopeless in others. Even amongst the brutality of the nights of terror, calls for familicide and a merciless nationalism rising, humour comes to the rescue in a fashion that sits effortlessly with even the darkest of situations.

However, even the best writing can be butchered by wooden acting and incompetent direction. It is a relief that no evidence of either is present in this production. With all the characters brought to life flawlessly, it is hard to say that a few actors stood out. However, some characters and scenes did.

“The scene is both moving and deeply uncomfortable”

Joseph Timm’s Syndney Carton was charming, likeable, pitiable and pathetic according to the moment. His heroic rescue of Darnay, his relatable and heart-breaking self-loathing when he had driven those he liked from him, his blunt and honest appraisal of his hopeless situation kept the audience yo-yoing between affection and contempt.

It is possible that Shanaya Rafaat’s and Timm’s little confrontation is the most touching scene in the piece. She pities him, she sees a good man deep down in him, she hates the thought of being left alone with him, she speaks to all of us with a drunken relative or hopeless loved one. The scene is both moving and deeply uncomfortable, the failed attempt at a kiss, the intrusion, the real tears that fall from Timm’s face.

“If a criticism is to be levelled at the play, it is that, Harry Atwell and Christopher Hunter were too memorable and too good”

Amongst the excellent lighting, music and direction, it is hard to find fault. If a criticism is to be levelled at the play, it is that Harry Atwell and Christopher Hunter were too memorable and too good as Stryver the lawyer and Monsinquer Marquis that, when they reappeared as other minor roles, we were reminded of their previous characters.

An unobservant audience member could believe that the charming lawyer had now become a wine-maker in the slums of Paris. Perhaps some concession needs to be made in one’s mind during the fight scenes, which thankfully were not left out, but unfortunately not up to the standard of the rest of the production.

“I would not miss the opportunity to see this piece again”

With talents, such as Mark Poulter and Rachel Portman invested in the success of the production, it is not hard to see why it turned out such a success. The talent of the director seems to indicate that a Cambridge education and Fulbright scholarship opportunities were not wasted on James Dacre. Although the production is nearly finished, I would not miss the opportunity to see this piece again.

9/10 – Unmissable, almost perfect

Dale Claridge

Image credit: mariabzz via Flickr

‘A Tale of Two Cities’ is running at the Theatre Royal until Saturday 26th November, for more information and to book tickets, see here.

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