Theatre interlude: A Tale of Two Cities

1 Mar

Taleof2

This year my blog appears to be mutating into a theatre review site.  I will try and redress the balance shortly (there are several incomplete music pieces held ‘in draft’) but I am attending more plays than gigs at the moment.

This production is based on the 1859 novel by Charles Dickens and when I write that it’s a world premiere, playing for three weeks (running to March 15) at the Royal Theatre in Northampton  you’ll probably start smiling indulgently. Some little production just a step up from am-dram perhaps?  Well, you’d be wrong. Royal and Derngate productions (branded as Made In Northampton) have been developing a national reputation for theatrical innovation over the past few years and this is keeps up the standard.  When I go on to point out that the novel has been adapted by Mike Poulton (whose adaptations of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bringing Up The Bodies  are in this season’s repertoire of the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford) you’ll realise that this is a bit special.  A further indication comes with the other ‘name’ on the programme cover: Rachel Portman (Oscar-winning composer for Emma  with further nominations for The Cider House Rules and Chocolat).

Director James Dacre has assembled a larger than usual cast for this production (with eleven professional actors supplemented by the Royal and Derngate Community Ensemble, including a number of undergraduates from the University of Northampton’s BA course in Acting). Given that the Royal’s stage is not that big, things are a bit of a squeeze at some points – although  the set designer, Mike Britton, deserves a name check because of the clever use of space in the trial/tribunal scenes and for putting together a highly atmospheric staging throughout.

The play is constrained by the plot of the novel in that it has to cover a long period of time, with scenes in London and Paris and this means there is not much space to allow for character development since the narrative has to be so fast-paced.  Perhaps Christopher Good, as Dr Manette,  is the actor who gets the most mileage from his part while Oliver Dimsdale, (playing the central character of the depressive barrister, Sydney Carton) was convincing in conveying the depth of his unrequited love for Lucy. In contrast Yolanda Kettle (as Lucy) and Joshua Silver (as Charles Darnay) were hard-pressed to make a mark in their roles.  Mairead McKinley was a magnificently malevolent Madame Defarge – although both she and Abigail McKern (as Miss Pross) need to work on their fight scene which was less than convincing.

At over two hours in length (plus interval), this was a skillful adaptation, well directed and staged and a enjoyable evening’s entertainment. I really hope it transfers to a bigger stage as I think the production would benefit.  I’d certainly recommend it if you can get to Northampton.

P.S. There are some good photos of the production at http://www.broadwayworld.com/westend/article/Photo-Flash-First-Look-at-Joshua-Silver-Yolanda-Kettle-and-More-in-A-TALE-OF-TWO-CITIES-20140228#.UxJIufl_uSo

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