A Tale of Two Cities (2016), King's Theatre, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show details
A Touring Consortium
James Dacre(Director) Mike Britton (Designer) Ruth Hall (Costume and Associate Designer) Mike Poulton (Adaptor) Rachel Portman (Composer) Paul Keogan (Lighting Designer) Jenny King (Producer)
Harry Atwell (Defarge) Rebecca Birch (Jenny Herring) Noa Bodner (Madame Defarge) Jonathan Dryden Taylor (Jerry) Michael Garner (Lorry) Christopher Hunter (Marquis) Jacob Ifan (Charles Darnay) Sean Murray (Barsad) Shanaya Rafaat (Lucie Manette) Patrick Romer (Dr Manette) Jon Tarcy (Attorney General) Joseph Timms (Sydney Carton) Sue Wallace (Miss Pross)
Running time

A Tale of Two Cities was Dicken’s favourite of his creations and one of which he was immensely proud, and it is easy to see why. It is a cutting tale, full of the best and worst of humanity, set in the best and worst of times.

It is one of only two pieces of historical fiction that Dickens produced, and in many ways that sets it apart from his other works. It is not a novel that necessarily fits the term ‘Dickensian’; by way of its political backdrop it deals in greater social peril than Victorian London, and in more than the misfortunes of its lowly inhabitants with which we usually associate Charles Dickens.

The story tells of much violence and terrible vengeance in the sight of injustice, but it also cries of compassion and optimism in the power of human spirit. This tale is set against the backdrop of the French Revolution, a setting of absolutes: danger is tangible, the stakes are at their highest, and emotions – anguish, betrayal, revenge, envy and love – are at their peak.

When Charles Darnay (Jacob Ifan) is tried for treason, Sydney Carton (Joseph Timms) saves his life in the courtroom. The trial throws the pair of them unwittingly into the same story; into the path of Lucie Manette (Shanaya Rafaat) with whom they both fall in love. The subtleties and intricately connecting lives of Dickens’ characters are delicately handled in Poulton’s script and the characters are given the space to develop, despite the rapidly moving plot. The ending of Dickens’ favourite creation is devastating, and Timms will break your heart.

When it comes to staging a classic novel, Dickens' work could be in no better hands than Mike Poulton’s. As Poulton says, ‘under the pages of the book there’s a play crying to get out’ and the drama of this novel translates perfectly to the stage.

The creative team behind this production, which premiered in 2014, are world class, and the whole production is magnificently put together. Even before the play begins we are met with Rachel Portman’s stunning soundtrack which, throughout the entire piece, has the blood pumping and the heartstrings stretched as it expertly underscores the whole play. There is tragic truth in the natures of Dickens’ characters and in their trials and times that cries of Les Miserables and Touring Consortium’s A Tale of Two Cities is just as great a piece of theatre.

Portman’s music compliments not only the story but the staging of this production, hand in hand with the beautifully designed set, defiantly elegant in its shabbiness, at once representing the dilapidated glamour of aristocratic Paris and noble London, and the bare, stripped back danger of the courtroom and harsh, cold front of Parisian gaols.

The story is guttural and heart-wrenching; the play, elegant and faithful. The cast are so gloriously authentic that they will speak Dickens’ words into your very soul.

Runs 8-12 November
Tickets £17-£30.50