two cities

A Tale of Two Cities

Wolverhampton Grand

****

FORGET any memories of force fed Dickens badly taught from dog eared tomes at school, this is a rip roaring adventure tale of revolution, romance and redemption.

Dickens only wrote two historical novels, this and the much earlier Barnaby Rudge, and this tale set in Paris and London around the outbreak of the French Revolution where the excesses and brutality of the worst of the aristocracy were matched and even exceeded by the mobs of the citizen’s republic.

It was a novel with fewer sub plots and eccentric characters than most of Dickens’ tales and despite being written in 1859 about events in the 1770s it has a very contemporary feel with an unknown narrator and characters we find out about from what they say and do rather than elaborate descriptions.

Mike Poulton has done a fine job of adapting the novel for the stage, keeping the essence of Dicken’s work without becoming side tracked by sub-plots and, in the hands of director James Dacre, this produces a quick paced and very slick production – something we have come to expect from the Touring Consortium Theatre Company.

The story is simple: Dr Manette played by Patrick Romer, upset an aristocrat so was jailed in Paris for 18 years without charge and has just been released so comes to London to stay with Lucie, played by Shanaya Rafaat, the daughter he has never seen. He is also helped by Charles Darnay.

Darney, played by Jacob Ifan, is heir to the Marquis St. Evrémonde, played by Christopher Hunter among other roles. The Marquis is a bullying, arrogant, cruel etc. aristocrat of the type that engendered a need for revolution. Darney hates the aristocratic system and has moved to London to make his own way in the world.

Except he is charged with treason be aiding the French, only being acquitted because of his uncanny likeness to a drunken, degenerate lawyer, Sydney Carlton, a likeness which makes any identification evidence unsafe.

Carlsydney and darnayton, beautifully played by Joseph Timms, is the unlikely hero. When Darnay falls for Lucie, so does Carlton, but he knows he is at best a reprobate and will always let her down, always break her heart. There is not much to like about the man yet somehow he is where our sympathies lie.

Doomed hero Sydney Carlton, left, drinking, as always, with Charles Darnay afterhis aquittal for treason

When Darnay returns to Paris to help a friend he ends up in court again and is sentenced to death for the sins of his father and uncle – it was that sort of time. And death means the guillotine the next day which gives us a real Saturday morning cinema cliffhanger.

Will Darnay be saved to rejoin his wife now heavy with child? Can Sydney save him? Will anyone live happily ever after? Find out at the Grand.

Poulton has kept in the best known speeches from the well quoted opening lines from the narrator  to the noblest lines of them all it the end and inbetween Dacre has created a real adventure story helped along by a fine cast and locally recruited ensemble.

The cast took on multiple roles but notable were Michael Garner as the banker Lorry, Noa Bodner as the revenge driven Madame Defarge, Jonathan Dryden Taylor as bodyguard Jerry and Sue Wallace as Lucie’s maid Miss Pross.

Mike Britton’s set design is a delight providing courts, taverns, streets, jails, fine houses and banks, as well as Madame Guillotine all appearing in seconds as walls roll or fly in or out or are carried in and out in stylised fashion by the cast with ne’er a break in the action

Paul Keogan’s lighting also helps set scenes and create atmosphere while Ruth Hall’s costumes just shout authenticity.

It is long show, at two and a half hours, but you will never notice as it fairly flies along. The result is a most enjoyable production which brings Dicken’s classic to glorious life. Dickens' considered A Tale of Two Cities his finest book an it is easy to see why. To 22-10-16

Roger Clarke

19-10-16

Incidentally Madame Guillotine, bloody star of the revolution was not actually a French invention. Halifax in Yorkshire had its own version the Gibbet, in the 13th century.

 

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