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Review: A Tale of Two Cities, at Regent’s Park Open-air Theatre

Innovative, dynamic and quite long, this adaptation might not be one for those who want undiluted Dickens

20 July, 2017 — By Catherine Usher

Patrick Driver (Manette), Foyinsola Ighodalo (Little Lucie), Jude Owusu (Darnay) and Marième Diouf (Lucie). Photo Johan Persson

PREPARE for denim jacket-wearing heroines, “yoofs” in hoodies storming the Bastille and countless comparisons between today’s world events and the French Revolution, because this adaptation of A Tale of Two Cities isn’t for the purists.

The references to Charles Darnay (Jude Owusu) and Sydney Carton (Nicholas Karimi) being indistinguishable is given a comic twist as Darnay is played by a clean-shaven black man and Carton is played by a bearded white man. There may be all sorts of clever comments about society in this casting but the typical viewer probably just thinks: “Those two gents don’t look anything like each other!”

The enjoyment of the play, directed by Timothy Sheader, could well hinge on how familiar the viewer is with the novel. For the uninitiated, the show is fast-paced (no mean feat with a running time of two hours and 50 minutes), innovative and dynamic.

Nicholas Karimi in A Tale of Two Cities. Photo: Johan Persson

But even those who yearn for undiluted Dickens, there is much to enjoy in this adaptation by Matthew Dunster.

The set is a triumph – three huge containers on a rotating stage that are climbed upon and opened to reveal a variety of imaginative settings. From the Manettes’ comfortable sitting room to a lavish lavatory, in which Monseigneur (Nicholas Khan) meets his grisly end, the set is a continual source of remarkable innovation.

Individual performances vary in how convincing they are, but Kevork Malikyan as Jarvis Lorry and Nicholas Karimi as Sydney Carton are outstanding. Karimi’s scene with Francesca Mills in which Carton comforts the ill-fated seamstress is a true tear-jerker. Ultimately it’s best to approach this show with an open mind – it clearly won’t be to everyone’s tastes.

Generally the reaction to the show has been negative and it says a lot about the audience’s expectations of the venue. It would seem that many attendees want to experience a traditional interpretation of Dickens and this is anything but.

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