BWW Review: A TALE OF TWO CITIES, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." The opening line of Charles Dickens' classic novel seems quite apt in describing the current Regent's Park Open Air Theatre's season to date. With On the Town beset by injuries before it even started, Timothy Sheader's current production of A Tale of Two Cities looks to be under an equally unlucky star. With the first preview cancelled due to a lack of preparation time, and scenes having to be rejigged, it's a wonder it has opened on the planned date.
The story follows the exiled Manette family in the build-up to the French Revolution, and the subsequent period known as the Terror. Lucie Manette marries a French nobleman, Charles Evremonde, and they live happily in London for many years, until he returns to France to help a former servant who has been imprisoned. The situation proves more volatile than he expected, and the family start to wonder if all hope is lost.
Outside of all this, however, is information overload. It really is A Tale of Two Halves, as the first attempts to put in a considerable amount of groundwork with little success, while the second settles much more easily. The turning point is the storming of the Bastille, unquestionably the best part of the first act; Liam Steel's movement direction brings across the physicality and tribal nature of the revolutionaries to great effect. Once this momentous change has taken place, the rest of the play finds some focus. There is still too much going on - the enactment of Dr Manette's written statement, for one, takes up too much time.
It's's also an issue when you consider that the show begins at 7.45pm and is close to three hours in length. This was made worse at the press performance by an unscheduled 15-minute break in the first half while the set was repaired. It's unfair and restrictive to put on a production that finishes close to 11pm.
Fly Davis's design is minimalist, with the set consisting of three large crates on a revolving stage, inspiring thoughts of refugees' plight as they seek a safer world - as is very often the case in our time, Britain is the land of hope in this story. The costumes are a mixture of modern dress and 18th-century style. The lavishness of Monseigneur Evremonde's garb contrasts vividly with a peasant in tracksuit and trainers, however there seems to be little consistency in how the styles are dished out to different characters.
Lee Curran's lighting adds a splash of colour as the night sets in, from the blood-red Terror to the heavenly white which engulfs Sydney Carton in his poignant monologue that ends the play. Nicholas Karimi stands out for this moment alone, capturing pure emotion with lines that speak to the times in which we are living.
The first in a pair of Dickens productions at the theatre this summer, A Tale of Two Cities unfortunately lacks the sharpness of the guillotine on this occasion. The adaptation is a rare bum note for Matthew Dunster, whose productions of Hangmen and Imogen have impressed in recent years. Whilst it may find its feet as the run continues, this is probably one to consign to the history books.
A Tale of Two Cities is at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre until 5 August
Picture credit: Johan Persson