This Dickens classic, in a new adaptation by Matthew Dunster, is a sprawling epic about people being displaced due to massive social and political upheaval. A story of extreme wealth and opulence and severe poverty, it practically begs the audience to start drawing contemporary parallels. And it’s true that a story about refugees escaping a volatile political environment and trying to find safety in Britain is incredibly timely.
Unfortunately however, director Timothy Sheader doesn’t trust his audience to make these connections and instead bludgeons us with his attempt to make this production ‘timely’ and ‘relevant’ and ‘now’.
Modern-day trakkie bottoms are side-by-side with period costume. One minute we are in 18th-century London or Paris and then what resembles a 21st-
century Calais migrant camp. Two large screens flicker with images of Trump, Grenfell Towers, the Twin Towers and RuPaul’s Drag Race. The overall effect is to create an incredibly messy production with the audience at a complete loss as to what is happening.
It is an admirably diverse cast but a major plot point is that Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay are supposed to be so physically similar as to be mistaken for each other. However, having a white, bearded Scottish actor (Nicholas Karimi) and a black actor (Jude Owusu) in these roles, especially when the audience are at breaking point trying to understand what is going on, seems misjudged. The giggles from the audience suggest I wasn’t the only one to give up.
The company commit fully and at times give explosive and passionate performances. But they are not helped by the clunky script with enormous amounts of exposition. There are moments that are highly entertaining – members of the French Court taking selfies with a backing track of Britney’s ‘Work Bitch’, and the Monseigneur driving horses that resemble something from a drug-fuelled trip – but they’re too brief. Karimi and Francesca Mills (as the Seamstress) give moving performances in the closing scene of the play but unfortunately it’s taken almost three hours to get there and all we are thinking about is the best route home.
A Tale Of Two Cities plays at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre until 5th August
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Words by Matthew Hyde