BWW Reviews: A TALE OF TWO CITIES, King's Head Theatre, October 6 2013
"We all live in a yella... " - you know the next word, don't you? I'm sure that we're born knowing the words to Yellow Submarine and - if that be the case - we're also born knowing the plot of A Tale of Two Cities. After 200 million books sold, eight film and five television versions, the challenge of transforming familiar story into captivatiing drama, is set for those wishing to take the Tale to the stage. That challenge was accepted by no less a pair than Terrence Rattigan and John Gielgud in 1935 and then... nothing happened. Until, 78 years later, with plenty of help from his friends, Adam Spreadbury-Maher has recalled it to life at last.
Was it worth the wait? Of course it was - how could it not be? Well, maybe, but this version certainly could have failed - the script needed some cuts, revolutionary Paris and a jittery London had to be created on a stage not much bigger than a cell in The Bastille and eight actors had to cover 20 characters. TheatreUpClose has worked within such strictures for years and turn their limitations to advantage, presenting an emotional, thrilling, brutal production, placing the audience within the slave state of The Terror and within the nexus of relationships at the heart of the story.
Stewart Agnew is all insouciant charm as Sydney Carton, as disengaged with life as Nicholas Bishop's Charles Darnay is at the heart of it - the aristocrat furthering the sans-culottes' cause, as he renounces his heritage. Enter femme fatale, Lucie Manette (Jennie Gruner) who captivates both men and sets them on their linked paths to redemption. Mr Agnew is well worth watching whenever he is on stage - his eyes reveal Carton's battle to retain his embittered cynicism, as he falls in love with a woman destined for another. On his professional debut, it's impressive work indeed.The menage-a-trois get excellent support from some fine old hands, the pick of whom is Shelley Lang's turn as the grotesque lawyer (hey, it's still Dickens) Mr Stryver, just shading Giles Stoakley's creepy double-agent Basard.
With scene changes soundtracked by clips of music all made by members of "The 27 Club", A Tale Of Two Cities still has the power to tug at the heartstrings with its populist message of love and sacrifice for the greater good. With civil wars and revolutions around the world as frequent and as hideously destructive at close quarters as ever they were, it's as sadly relevant as ever it were too.