REVIEW: A Tale of Two Cities (Open Air Theatre) ★★★

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…”

The opening lines of Charles DickensA Tale of Two Cities are among the most famous in literature and this haunting story of love, loss and hope during The French Revolution stays with you forever.

So as we took our seats and saw the three blue shipping containers on the stage, our hearts sank. This was clearly a modern interpretation. And for the first five minutes we were in shock, as the cast burst onto the stage in a variety of sportswear, shouting Dickens’ lines.

However, by the interval we were starting to relax and as the cast took its final bow at the end of Act Two, we were entirely caught up in the emotion of the tale.

It’s certainly not for everyone (and sadly quite a few people did leave in the interval), but if you keep an open mind, this is actually a very good production. Parallels are drawn between the raging issues in 18th century France and modern society’s refugee crisis. Calais remains a symbol of hope, as those fleeing war-torn countries see it as the final hurdle before they can make a new life in Britain.

The cast as a whole are good, making impressive use of physical theatre, particularly to show death, travel, and to narrate the story. However, there is a lack of love and passion between certain characters and although Charles Darnay (Jude Owusu) and Lucie Manette (Marième Diouf) have a nice relationship and the two actors are strong, they lack chemistry and their love is not clear.

The most emotion comes from Lydia Bradford (Irène) when she loses her daughter (Evie Buxton), and the scene between the Seamstress (Francesca Mills) and Nicholas Karimi (Sydney Carton) when facing La Guillotine. These scenes are heartbreaking, especially as Carton first comforts his fellow prisoner amidst the sound of the blade, then reassures himself by imagining how Lucie and Charles will commemorate his sacrifice, not knowing that they have not yet made it safely across to England and his (and perhaps Dickens’) envisioned happy ending may not ever take place.

This production is a little haphazard and certain elements of the book are glossed over, so it is never quite clear why Carton is willing to die for Lucie. The added profanities – no doubt intended to shock the audience and emphasise the violence – do perhaps have the desired effect, but are still perhaps a tad unnecessary.

That said, Matthew Dunster still manages to capture the heart and soul of the original novel and ensure that it is as relevant today as it was then.

Reviewed by Michaela Clement-Hayes
Photo: Johan Persson