A TALE OF TWO CITIES
Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Thursday 20th October, 2016
Mike Poulton’s masterful adaptation of Charles Dickens’s classic cracks along at a fair pace, distilling the novel into a couple of hours’ traffic on the stage. It’s a powerful piece of storytelling. Domestic scenes are interspersed with vignettes of violence as the mob takes over Paris and wreaks vengeance on the aristocracy. The French Revolution is the backdrop and the antagonist in this story of love and sacrifice.
Jacob Ifan is Charles Darnay who, despite having renounced his inherited title, finds himself in shtuck with the French tribunal. Ifan is handsome and reserved – except when he is talking politics and then the character’s passion comes to the fore. By contrast, Joseph Timms’s Sydney Carton is a livelier presence, a spirited nihilist whose swagger only serves to advertise his lack of self-esteem. Timms is charismatic, commanding our attention. Carton boxes clever to save Darnay’s neck on more than one occasion. (Carton…boxes…? Suit yourself!)
Both men are in love with Lucie Manette (an elegantly emotional Shanaya Rafaat) – and external events conspire to bring the triangle to a devastating denouement.
There is sterling support from Patrick Romer as Dr Manette, Michael Garner as faithful Mr Lorry, and Jonathan Dryden Taylor amuses as servant/bodyguard Jerry, while Harry Attwell makes an impression as Stryver The ensemble is afforded many chances for some character cameos: Sue Wallace’s Pamela Keating and Rebecca Birch’s Jenny Herring stick in the mind – Dickens certainly knew how to give voice to the lower orders. Villain of the piece, Madame Defarge (Noa Bodner) personifies the kind of thinking that urges Brexit voting idiots to denounce all opposition as traitors. The red of her skirt is a rare splash of colour in Ruth Hall’s muted costume palette, suggesting the bloodshed of those terrible times.
Mike Britton’s set evokes the Ancien Régime in decline, and Paul Keogan’s lighting intensifies the drama, contrasting dimness with moments of sharpness. James Dacre directs, using contrasts for clarity and building a sense of a world in turmoil encroaching on individual lives. The treatment of the poor – as typified here by Christopher Hunter’s cruel marquis – is facing resurgence in Britain today as the ruling classes demonise those less fortunate. The shadow of the guillotine looms large in this story – perhaps we are overdue our own revolution. Nobility, says the play, is nothing to do with title, wealth or privilege but is rather something within us – well, some of us.
To cap it all, Rachel Portman’s original score is striking, stirring, melancholic and tragic.
It all adds up to an excellent evening, an absorbing, gripping and moving production of which the Royal & Derngate in Northampton and the Touring Consortium Theatre Company should be very proud.
Great stuff and – if I might use the term – well executed!