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Review: A Tale Of Two Cities

Tale of Two Cities

It is rare to write that I have enjoyed a piece of theatre virtually without reservation from beginning to end, but this is one of those occasions. This production was of the utmost professionalism and gripped throughout, with all concerned displaying complete commitment. With the advantage conferred by being a long-time Dickens fan, I feel able to state that the production was true to the spirit and largely the letter of the book. While short for Dickens, this is a long book and I cannot imagine the challenge of condensing it into a workable play.

The production’s first half set the scene and established the characters, much as Dickens’ books tend to do, before moving from London to Paris for a roller-coaster of emotional drama as repentant French aristocrat, Charles Darnay, while trying to rescue a former servant, is sucked into a maelstrom of revolutionary blood lust and finds himself thrown back on the dissolute, Sydney Carton’s, lawyerly guile for salvation.

Despite having read this book twice and once fairly recently, I found myself learning from the production. For instance, I am now certain that Carton is bi-polar and an alcoholic through trying to drink away his frequent down periods. Interestingly, Dr Manette’s shoe-making, a response to his post-traumatic stress disorder after eighteen years’ incarceration in the Bastille, is glossed over; this is a significant and chilling part of the book. Illness tends to play in important role in Dickens’ plots. Furthermore, here is an explanation for Madame Defarge’s implacable rage against the aristocracy and Darnay’s family in particular. However, I retain my position that Madame Defarge is one of the most evil characters in literature.

The acting was of such a high standard that it is difficult to select individuals for particular praise. Several of the actors were playing up to three roles and this must take incredible skill. If pushed, I must say that, Joseph Timms, was deeply convincing as the self-destructive and tortured Carton, finding redemption in self-sacrifice at the end. Perhaps some of the acting seemed slightly ‘classic British theatre’ at times, but this fitted and still worked for me. Some might have balked at the slow motion fight between Miss Pross and Madame Defarge, but again this worked and was somehow more convincing than a Hollywood film style production. Pross is a comedy character in the book and it is a surprise when she ends up playing such a crucial role; but then Dickens likes doing that. Despite knowing what was going to happen, I did feel real jeopardy right to the close.

All aspects of this in many ways sparse production has been worked through meticulously. The scenery, lighting, atmospheric music and the costume, were all convincing. It’s usually the shoes that let the latter down, but here even the shoes were good enough. Carton’s clothes has been rumpled and weathered to indicate his debauched state, while Darnay’s were crisp and clean.

The inevitable guillotine scene would be so easy to over-play. How would the meeting with the seamstress be handled? In the book this character realises that Carton has taken Darnay’s place. A short dialogue sequence revealed this character’s tragedy. The temptation to have the guillotine in bright silhouette was resisted, it being kept in shadow instead with only the blade picked out at a crucial moment, with sound effects adding extra menace. Joseph Timms delivered Dickens’ final words written for Carton at just the right pitch, when it would have been so, so easy to go into neck vein-bulging histrionics; once more he must be congratulated.

The virtually full-house audience’s final curtain reaction was ecstatic with some standing to applaud and cheer. So, I am not alone in my view on this production. More of this please.

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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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