A Tale of Two Cities

‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.’

Dickens’s famous opening sentence introduces the universal approach of his 1859 novel, of the French Revolution and of the drama depicted within. Set in London and Paris, the novel depicts the plight of the French peasantry demoralised by the French aristocracy in the years leading up to the Revolution, the corresponding brutality demonstrated by the revolutionaries toward the former aristocrats in the early years of the Revolution, and many unflattering social parallels with life in London during the same period.

The play by Matthew Francis, adapted from the 45-chapter novel, demands a lot from the actors and proved a challenge in the first act, which lost pace as it stretched the actors line-learning skills to near breaking point. I felt the audience was supportive and sympathetic to the cast, and future performances will surely not suffer the first-night horrors.

With many roles to cast, a number of actors doubled or even tripled roles which, as promised in the programme, served to showcase the versatility and flexibility of the Regent Rep cast. Valerie Gillard (Miss Pross and Narrator), Nikki Wilson (Madame Defarge), Chaz Davenport (Defarge, Gaoler, Executioner) and Tim Wallace-Abbot (Mr Lorry) delivered notably strong performances with Alex Smith (Boy and Revolutionary) produced a memorable performance of great maturity as an over-protective brother who sacrifices his life.

This is a mammoth play covering a great many events, people and places, but following a complicated plot was made easier by simple, effective staging and props and excellent clear direction under the insightful eye of Anne Ponting. Exceedingly clever lighting produced by Tom Critchell and Shaun Luckly of the Regent Centre Technical Management set the Dickensian scenes perfectly and added great tension and reality to the guillotine moments.

Future performances: 20-21 October at 7.30, 22 October at 2.30.