Lost ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ script is a revelation 80 years on

Tale of Two Cities - Stewart Agnew

Tale of Two Cities - Stewart Agnew - Credit: Archant

A Tale of Two Cities

The King’s Head Theatre


This play has quite some calibre. Famously, the source is Dickens, but this stage adaptation is by Rattigan and Gielgud. That’s quite a pedigree. What could go wrong? Well, firstly, although the adaptation was written back in the 1930s, it was never actually performed. Also, execution is key, so condensing the scale and scope of such grand material onto a tiny stage and within a small budget is a huge task and a mountain to climb. On paper, it shouldn’t work. In reality and on the basis of the TheatreUpClose production, it works a treat.

To make the production a workable entity, the focus has been narrowed to that of the domestic relationships of Charles Darnay, Lucie Mannette and Sydney Carton. The woven fragments of love and politics remain in place and they remain powerful.

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The cast of eight actors handle multiple characters each. Their chameleonic changes are effortlessly protean and they invest each part with apt gusto and spirit. They are uniformly outstanding and a true revelation.

Modern music pipes through in the scene changes - Jimi Hendrix, the Doors, Nirvana and Amy Winhouse all get nods. What should shriek and holler as an act of sacrilege to material that is a couple of centuries old surprisingly compliments and adds a sense of foreboding and weight to the scenes that they link or soundtrack.

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The drama oozes appropriate portent and a fair slice of humour. There is flamboyance, but rarely at the cost of sincerity. There is a mild mid-section lull though, at which point a couple of moments verge on the histrionic. However, this is fleeting.

Overall, this is theatre at the top of its game. Seeing plays can be an expensive gamble, but in this instance it is no gamble at all. There is so much to marvel here and it is a production that tickles the brain and entertains in equal measure. Go see it.

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