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Preview: Tale of Two Cities

Tale of Two Cities

Suffice to say in prelude that I am something of a Dickens nut and am therefore really looking forward to seeing this Touring Consortium Theatre Company and Royal and Derngate Northampton production. The book is adapted by Mike Poulton who reworked Wolf Hall for the RSC and is directed by James Dacre (previously at the New Vic Theatre and Theatre503), and will be performed with a score by Oscar-winning composer Rachel Portman (soundtracks for Cider House Rules and Beloved). It’s quite a book these renowned professionals have to work with.

Tale of Two Cities is a good introduction to Dickens and along with Barnaby Rudge, one of his novels written out of his period. He judged it the best he wrote and it’s a ripping yarn. It is a ‘fair’ book that shows Dickens’ inclinations as a social reformer; the French revolution’s background of oppression is described, before the horror at its reign of terror is revealed. Dickens uses the first third of a book to lay out his characters and set up the plot, after which things race away. For the period, he writes very directly and is compelling reading (but I would say this).

Set in London and Paris before and during the Revolution, the story interweaves one family’s personal struggles with an epic fable of love, sacrifice and redemption amidst horrific violence. The production promises to resonate with present-day audiences against a contemporary backdrop.

The book’s plot is strong with some real jeopardy at times; people’s actions come back to haunt them. Characters are well drawn and convincing, leavened by apparently ‘light’ characters some of whom, such as Miss Pross, become crucial plot instruments. I think that the character Sydney Carton’s sacrifice is well enough known for this not to be a plot spoiler, but it can be missed that Carton saves French aristocrat, Charles Darnay, twice. It is ‘fun’ to diagnose the various illnesses that Dickens uses in his plot, but tends not to name. Carton’s bipolar condition and the doctor Manette’s post traumatic stress disorder play important roles. As a crafter, I like the idea that Manette has used shoe-making as a survival technique.

Dickens avoids Franco-phobia (Britain had been in alliance with the French in the Crimean war, which finished three years before this book’s publication), but I must mention two particularly loathsome characters. Firstly the marquis, set up to show how the revolution had to happen. Secondly, Madam Defarge, truly, skin-crawlingly evil. The story can’t proceed without the latter and I will be watching to see how this is handled.

This book’s dramatic opportunities are endless as the plot moves between London and Paris and the revolution’s passion and blood-lust subsumes ordinary people’s lives. I can’t wait to see how this has been interpreted. A theatre spokesperson said:

“A Tale of Two Cities promises to be an enthralling production from one of the foremost touring theatre companies around. As part of the Touring Consortium, the Grand is proud to bring these critically acclaimed productions to Blackpool, including Of Mice and Men, Brassed Off and Brave New World. The play is sure to give audiences much pause for thought while telling this unforgettable story.”

Lovers of classic drama can catch A Tale of Two Cities at Blackpool Grand Theatre from Tuesday 11 to Saturday 15 October. Tickets are available from blackpoolgrand.co.uk or by calling the box office on 01253 290190.

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    I have worked in the housing and transport professions for several local authorities, specialising in policy, strategy preparation and bid writing. Having always had an interest in film, the visual arts in general, theatre, music and lterature, I thought it would be good to combine the writing experience with these interests to contribute to altBlackpool. In addition to writing, my hobbies include watercolour and pastel painting, photography, woodwork, cycling and vegetable gardening.

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