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!
A tale of two, sitting: Joseph Timms, Rebecca Birch and Jacob Ifan
Leave a comment | tags: A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens, Christopher Hunter, Grand Theatre Wolverhampton, Harry Attwell, Jacob Ifan, James Dacre, Jonathan Dryden Taylor, Joseph Timms, Michael Garner, Mike Britton, Mike Poulton, Noa Bodner, Patrick Romer, Paul Keogan, Rachel Portman, Rebecca Birch, review, Royal & Derngate Northampton, Ruth Hall, Shanaya Rafaat, Sue Wallace, Touring Consortium Theatre Company | posted in Theatre Review
A LIFE OF GALILEO
The Swan, Stratford upon Avon, Tuesday 19th February, 2013
Roxana Silbert’s production of this new translation by RSC resident playwright Mark Ravenhill gives us a Brecht play that adds weight to the characters’ humanity, wisely restricting the Brechtian aspects of the staging to the inter-scene transitions.
We begin with a backdrop like huge sheets of blue graph paper. A handheld microphone lies centre stage. Electronic noticeboards hang over the stage, scrolling the captions for each scene. The mic is snatched up by Galileo himself. As he begins to narrate, cast members run by, stripping him down to his boxer shorts. As he washes himself, he instructs his landlady’s young son in the basics of his argument: that the Earth is not a fixed point at the centre of the universe; it moves and turns, as all stars do… And so, the play begins with both man and his ideas laid bare before us.
As Galileo, evil emperor Palpatine off of Star Wars himself, Ian McDiarmid gives a towering performance. We see the mathematician’s enthusiasm and delight along with his egotism, his boastfulness, his drive, his passion and his arrogance on almost a Dawkins-like scale. This is a portrait of a man, painted with deft strokes and more naturalism than you might expect in a Brecht play. In fact, in this world of plastic chairs and nifty red stepladders, the cast breathes life into the characters, making them more than mouthpieces for either side of the central argument.
That argument is uncannily topical. It is astounding to me to know that in 2013 reason still faces such strong opposition from institutionalised superstition. You only have to think back a fortnight or so and recall the fatuous arguments of the wilfully ignorant trying to bolster their bigotry against equal marriage with highly selective quotes from scripture. You don’t have to watch the news for long to see countries where facts are stubbornly denied and contradicted by those who cling to superstition. Change will damage society, these people claim, when what they really mean is their positions of power will be challenged. On a smaller scale, my own Twitter feed is littered on a daily basis with horoscopes posted by people who, in other respects, seem intelligent and insightful. Brecht’s play, first presented in 1937, is very much a chronicle for the early 21st century.
An extra topical note the producers could not have foreseen is the changeover of popes. Galileo looks forward to a less reactionary man in a pointy hat… I wish I could share his optimism.
In an excellent cast, I especially liked Matthew Aubrey as landlady’s son Andrea. We watch him grow from curious young lad to fervent proponent of the new thinking. Philip Whitchurch’s Barberini, Jake Fairbrother’s Ludovico, and Martin Turner’s Cardinal Inquisitor all lend weight and credibility to the ‘other side’; and there is a wonderfully comic moment from Patrick Romer as a ‘very old cardinal’ stomping around, knackering himself out, proclaiming he is the centre of the universe. Jodie McNee is Galileo’s pious daughter – her repeated chanting of “Hail Marys” is disturbing, as she prays her dad will recant his heretical hypotheses. Tom Scott’s design is simple and clean, like a new geometry set on the first day of school. John Woolf leads the band of musicians in some raucous and rousing tunes.
It’s a provocative and compelling production. Silbert and Ravenhill make Brecht accessible and enjoyable, but the evening belongs to McDiarmid – his performance is, dare I say, a tour de ‘Force’?
The Force is strong in this one. Ian Mc Diarmid as Galileo and Matthew Aubrey as Andrea.
Leave a comment | tags: A Life Of Galileo, Brecht, Emperor Palpatine, Ian McDiarmid, Jake Fairbrother, Jodie McKee, John Woolf, Mark Ravenhill, Martin Turner, Matthew Aubrey, Patrick Romer, Philip Whitchurch, review, Roxana Silbert, RSC, Tom Scott | posted in Theatre Review