Skip to main content

Review of A Tale Of Two Cities (First Preview) at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

The James Dacre directed production of Mike Poulton's adaption of Charles DIckens' classic novel is as important to me as any play that I have seen. A bold statement, however on the 1st March, 2014 when I first saw it in the Royal & Derngate, it was the first play I had seen in the building for 21 years (that being The Invisible Man with a certain Sylvester McCoy, which I randomly still have the poster for). I was frankly amazed and absorbed from my aisle seat in row B. Because of this, I returned and returned again and have since seen well over two hundred plays at various venues in the town and have been sucked into theatre in many other ways beyond an audience member.

Having the chance to see it again as it sets off on a very well deserved tour was a wonderful opportunity, and no better way for me to open my 2016/17 season at the Royal & Derngate. Adaptor Mike Poulton has done a very good job in bringing Dickens' bold and epic story to the stage and with the work of director James Dacre, the action over the two and a half hours is kept edgy and surprisingly modern.

What did strike me on my initial encounter and remains a wonderful touch is the build-up to the play as the audience make their way to their seats. Haunting singing projected from beyond the scrim curtain brings us into the world, and once again this is wonderfully performed. A particular highlight this time was the wonderful singing from Noa Bodner, who plays Madame Defarge with rather a lot of menace.

The key role within Tale is really the drunken yet purposeful Sydney Carton who was superbly played in the original production I saw by Oliver Dimsdale, however I feel this time that the role is given just that little more character by the new lead, Joseph Timms. He looks the part even more, in his disheveled state and his drunken breakdowns are particularly powerful.

The cast of the 2016 touring production of A Tale Of Two Cities (Photo: Robert Day)
Reprising their many roles from the original production are Christopher Hunter and Royal Theatre regular Sean Murray. They bring great character once again to all their roles, with Hunter's Judge one of many highlights.

On second viewing, there was one slight fly in the ointment of this being perfect and that is the surprisingly long and stilted opening scene in the court room. It wasn't something that I noticed originally, however it does make it a very sluggish start before we get to the, admittedly, solid goods further into the play. Again, I must finally mention the superb work from composer Rachel Portman. It was striking and stirring when I originally heard it, and two and a half years later, it remains an incredibly strong part of this production.

A Tale Of Two Cities is not the best play that I have seen in the Made In Northampton range since that fateful day of 1st March, 2014. However this is much to do with the constant quality of the work produced through this range, rather than anything being wrong with Tale. It is a neat and compact production of a complicated novel, filled with excellent performances and a mostly swift and pacy direction from James Dacre. It came highly recommended from me at the time and still does, and for myself especially, I look back at it with an immense fondness as something that changed my life completely for the better in every way. It truly brought for me, the very best of times.

★★★


Performance reviewed: Saturday 10th September, 2016 at the Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton.

A Tale Of Two Cities runs at the Royal & Derngate until Saturday 17th September, 2016 before touring until November. Details of the tour are here: http://theatrecloud.com/a-tale-of-two-cities/tour-dates-booking-info

For further details visit the Royal & Derngate website at http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk/

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Review of A Passage to India at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

Creating the world of E. M. Forster's A Passage to India for the stage and into a little over two hours running time offers many challenges, not least creating the visual world of India. However, this co-production between Royal & Derngate and simple8 throw away any need for complex sets, and bring the world of India, including some of its wildlife to life via boxes and bamboo canes. The success of this is really quite amazing as perhaps the crowning moment of the elephant brings home the most. Simple8 is an award-winning ensemble group and the way they work together to get their characters travelling through the world of India explains why they have received the awards.

A Passage to India is a 1924 novel telling of Britain's generally unpleasant rule in India and takes as its story an encounter between the elderly Mrs Moore (Liz Crowther), Adela (Phoebe Pryce), who is keen to see the real India, and Dr Aziz (Asif Khan). While their meetings seem pleasant, to begin with, e…

Review of The Flint Street Nativity, performed by University Of Northampton BA Actors at Maidwell Hall (Avenue Campus), Northampton

The Flint Street Nativity was presented by the BA Actors as part of a double bill with The Night Before Christmas, and you could hardly imagine such a difference in style. Tim Firth's genuinely, quite endearing play was quite the opposite to the rough and vicious Christmas spirit of the previous show.

Flint Street offers the intriguing situation of adult performers acting as children as they present to their audience (and always watched by the unseen, but a creepy red lighted teacher, Mrs Horrocks), their production of the nativity. It forms quite a delight of totally recognisable characters from your school days if you are able to remember that far back.

Among my favourite performances from this are Gemma Fensham as the total brat Gabriel, never seeming to have an expression other than sucking a lemon, as she breezily switches her best friend back and forth with abandon. She rather stylishly perfected the sulking strutting off routine as well, fabulous! Playing up to his size with…

Review of The Jungle Book at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

The Jungle Book is an age-old classic, made far more famous by Walt Disney than any other original writer going by the name of Rudyard Kipling. Mention the title to many people and they are more likely to say "oobee doo I wanna be like you" than say "oh, yes, the book by Kipling". Therefore to present this classic tale for the stage and dispense with all reference or hint to that ingrained music and create new music of your own is dangerous. However, that is before you witness the brilliant new work of Joe Stilgoe, with lyrics by adaptor Jessica Swale, and you realise very quickly you are in very safe hands. These are catchy, foot-tapping tunes of the killer variety.

However, Jessica Swale's adaptation is far from a procession of nifty tunes, this is a bold, clever and still very relevant production for 2017 of the now 123-year-old novel. Perhaps strong enough to live without those tunes if needed, this is no musical adaptation. Sweeping clever snatches of humo…