A Tale of Two Cities

08/11/16

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

There’s something reassuringly old-fashioned about this stylish adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic story of friendship and sacrifice. There are no gimmicks, no updates, no references to current political circumstances. Instead, Mike Poulton’s skilful adaptation plays things absolutely straight. That’s not to say that it’s dull. The story is brilliantly and effectively staged, the narrative slipping effortlessly back and forth between London and Paris, without ever prompting us to ask, ‘where are we now?’

In the story’s opening scene, Charles Darney (Jacob Ifan) finds himself in court, accused of treason against the British Crown. Barrister Sidney Carton (Joseph Timms) brilliantly defends Darnay, using the fact that quite by chance, the two men resemble each other. Though Darnay doesn’t much like the dissolute Carton, he acknowledges that he owes the man a great debt and agrees to a kind of friendship, one that is complicated by the fact that Carton has fallen in love with Lucie Manette (Shanaya Rafaat), Darnay’s fiancé.

Meanwhile, over in Paris, the French Revolution is gathering momentum – and the fact that Darnay is a French émigré and the rightful heir to the estate of the hated Maquis St Evérmonde (a wonderfully spiteful Christopher Hunter) means that Darnay soon finds himself back in court  – and this time, he’s a potential candidate for an encounter with the guillotine.

This story has endured for a very good reason – it’s a powerful tale of mankind’s ability to do wonderful things in terrible circumstances – and this is a fine example of how a great novel can also make a great stage play. Director James Dacre handles it all with aplomb and special mention should be made to the Royal and Derngate workshops, who created the scenery, set, props, costumes, wigs and makeup for the show. At times it feels uncannily like we are looking at a series of classic paintings from the period.

Fans of Dickens – and there are many of them – should get themselves along to the King’s Theatre, where A Tale of Two Cities is showing until Saturday 12th November.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

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