STRIDENT and demanding, Rachel Portman’s musical sting at the start of Royal & Derngate’s touring production of A Tale of Two Cities is the first clue that this staging of the Dicken’s classic dreams of grandeur.
King’s Theatre, Leven Street
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Mike Britton’s stunning set design doesn’t disappoint either. It’s stunning.
Initially a dilapidated court room, distressed and worn, gliding walls shift and slide to reveal pockets of light, shadowy liaisons, and grand state rooms, all enhanced by Paul Keogan’s gloriously atmospheric lighting.
It’s like watching an old, old watercolour come to life.
That said, the addition of 12 local actors, playing the populace of France and Britain as required, give the epic scale of the endeavour an almost cinematic feel.
As the 1700s draw to a close, Britain is at war with America, France in the throes of revolution.
Amongst all this turmoil, the refined Charles Darnay is not what he at first appears, but then, as nobles and citizens clash in bloody conflict, is anyone?
At the centre of the uprising is Cuffs’ star Jacob Ifan, who swaps the serge of PC Jake Vickers for the britches and buckles of his rebellious French aristocrat.
In an assured, measured stage debut, Ifan gives a thoughtful, finely understated performance, as comfortable in moments of stillness as at times of heightened emotion.
He is superbly supported by a predominantly strong cast led by Joseph Timms, who creates a sympathetic ‘degenerate’ in Sydney Carton.
His drink-sodden junior barrister fills the stage ensuring Timms’ place as the linchpin of the production.
Patrick Romer, as Dr Manette, and Shanaya Rafaat, as his daughter Lucie, too turn in solid shifts, while Christopher Hunter creates a crafty collection of sparky caricatures as the Judge, Marquis, President, and French Aristocrat.
There’s also some lovely comedy from Sue Wallace, the feisty governess Miss Pross, although elsewhere, the odd cast member perhaps needs a visit from the director.
Similarly, the cartoon-like fight scenes lack truth and need reworking.
Cramming the drama of A Tale of Two Cities into just over two hours was, of course, always a big ask.
So if there is a slightly disjointed urgency to some elements of Mike Poulton’s at times wordy script, it is perhaps only to be expected.
Consequently, the transitions between some scenes jar, although most are covered with delightful little vignettes, snapshots of life at the time.
However, as the plot twists and turns, it culminates in a truly gruesome and chillingly denouement that is nothing less than a spectacular moment of theatre.
Run ends Saturday