Regent's Park Open Air Theatre (venue)
14 July 2017 (released)
20 July 2017
In the incredibly romantic setting of Regents Park Open Air theatre, ‘Matthew Dunster’s re-interpretation of ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ makes a bold, unflinching leap from the French Revolution into our contemporary migration crisis.
The stunning set makes a promising start with three vast shipping containers balanced on top of each other, opening and closing to reveal new scenes on the revolving stage. ‘Which way to Calais?’ calls a voice from the dishevelled ensemble as they trudge on.
Dickens who was extremely concerned about poverty in his own society may well have approved of the decision to address ‘the worst of times’ in our own. The personal cost of political turmoil and social upheaval cannot be ignored and provides a clear parallel. But A Tale of Two Cities is also a novel about redemption and hope - Dr Manette, played sensitively by Patrick Driver is re-born after 18 years imprisoned in the Bastille and Sydney Carton (Nicholas Karimi) is redeemed by sacrificing himself. Despite dramatic staging and heavy strings the hope somehow gets lost in Sheader’s production. Maybe we are just too close to the migration crisis right now. It all feels very bleak.
Dickens is notoriously difficult to stage and running at almost three hours, the endless scenes are literally sign-posted on TV screens to keep the audience on track and the potential of the concept is soon lost. Though often striking, the attempt to straddle two worlds feels heavy handed and incoherent at times - one character in a scene often wearing period dress as if to remind us of the parallel, or Louis fifteenth’s horses men dancing to techno music for a bit of light entertainment. Exciting ideas but slightly distracting in the end.
A Tale of Two cities may not succeed in it’s ambition but is daring and thought provoking and there are moments of beauty such as Lucie, waiting outside Charles’s prison as the seasons change. And Regents Park theatre looks more romantic than ever, couples gathered around delicious hampers, trees decked in fairy-lights as day turns to night.