Review: A Tale of Two Cities, Royal & Derngate

“Repression is the only lasting philosophy”

Although not intentionally, this year I’ve been racing through the list of theatres (and towns) I haven’t been to before and Northampton’s Royal & Derngate is the latest to be ticked off. This production of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities marks the beginning of James Dacre’s tenure as Artistic Director there and though I have no way to compare it with what usually takes place on stage here, it feels like a hugely ambitious piece of work and a definite statement of intent.

Most of this comes from the team he has gathered. Mike Poulton’s sleek adaptation of the novel surely confirms him as the country’s foremost translator from page to stage, Oscar winner Rachel Portman provides a hugely atmospheric score which swells to fill the auditorium, and the use of a community ensemble gives credibility to the world of the play, creating a most effective baying mob in Mike Britton’s beautiful set which effortlessly switches location as the story dictates.

That story swirls around a tortured love triangle during the years of the French revolution and the turmoil that followed. Joshua Silver’s doomed aristocrat Charles Darnay lurches from crisis to crisis, yet still finds time to marry the wonderfully alluring Lucie, played with skill by Yolanda Kettle, who is also desired by Oliver Dimsdale’s complex lawyer Sydney Carton, a man who ends up holding everyone’s fate in his hands as political unrest threatens to swallow the world up. 

That world is populated by any number of supporting characters, some of whom register strongly – like Abigail McKern’s serving wench, Christopher Hunter’s arrogant toff and Michael Mears’ elderly banker – and others who pass by having been sketched perhaps a little too lightly. But the searching politics of a universe undergoing seismic change remains powerful indeed, some elements even ringing true with an unexpected contemporary resonance.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 15th March

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