THEATRE REVIEW: A Tale of Two Cities at Royal & Derngate

Tale of Two Cities at Royal & Derngate
Tale of Two Cities at Royal & Derngate

At a time when TV viewers are spoilt for choice when it comes to watching box set series that rival the quality of Hollywood films, theatregoers are also being offered productions that surpass almost any trip to the cinema.

A Tale of Two Cities is the latest Made In Northampton to offer audiences acting, writing and set designing of the highest quality.

The show begins with the cast reciting Dickens’ famous ‘best of times, worst of times’ opening paragraph set in the late 18th century, which seemed to be eerily appropriate to the current Post-Brexit situation in the UK.

The opening courtroom scene catapults the audience into the action with a pace and intensity that grabs the attention.

With the judge sat above the height of the stage, witnesses are called to give evidence on the trial of Charles Darnay (Jacob Ifan), who is accused of treason.

Snappy dialogue and the use of music to mark the end of each piece of evidence and the entrance of a new charcter to the stage gives the production a cinematic quality.

Cleverly, Joseph Timms, who plays Sydney Carton, is the one character on stage he appears to take a back seat in the action in the opening scene until he makes his crucial intervention that swings the jury in Mr Darney’s favour.

Wearing tight trousers and with long, slightly unkempt hair, Timms resembles an 18th Century Russell Brand, but without the arrogance.

At times it feels the emphasis on his self-loathing is overdone but it actually makes the emotional punch at the end of the show even more forceful.

For almost the entire first half, the engrossing action never loses pace and this is mainly due to the quality of the acting.

I particularly enjoyed Christopher Hunter’s unrepentently facist Marquis who commanded the stage and everyone around him with a flick of his hand or a rise in the pitch of his voice.

Much praise must go to director James Dacre and his production team for the seamless, imperceptible, changes of set from a courtroom in London to a mansion in Paris.

The moody, candlelit rooms evoke the sense of living in the 18th century and the costumes are rich in period detail.

Apart from a couple of moments, when the action moves forward at a slightly too fast rate of knots, playwright Mike Poulton has done a superb job of distilling Dickens’ large novel into a two-and-half-hour show.

I’ve never read A Tale of Two Cities but I was gripped by this production all the way through. In fact, the first third of the show is probably the highest standard of theatre I have ever seen.

The play is at Royal & Derngate until Saturday. It will then go on a Uk tour. For more information go to www.touringconsortium.co.uk/show/twocities/