A Tale of Two Cities - 12 July 2017 Review

"tries too hard to be contemporary"

Before it had even officially opened, the new adaption of A Tale of Two Cities at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park had seen controversy in its previews, with a sex scene and a lot of the strong language being removed by press night due to complaints and walk-outs. It did seem relatively tame in comparison to what I’d read when I saw the Matthew Dunster production – a contemporary interpretation of the Charles Dickens’ classic novel – but the removal of some of the more explicit elements in the play sadly didn’t do much to make it a more enjoyable experience.

The play is a muddled mess seemingly set in the modern day refugee crisis with a set by Fly Davis consisting of three giant shipping containers which open up to reveal scenes from prisons to carriages, but the characters are dressed in a combination of Adidas tracksuits and 18th century attire, speaking in a dialogue that mixes Dickensian dialect and the F-word and jumping from the 1700's to the present day with no cohesion at all. With two small screens either side of the stage flickering images from Theresa May to Donald Trump amongst others, the fusion of the old and modern just doesn't work, and it all serves to make the play confusing, unfocused and hard to follow if you’re unfamiliar with the story.

Along with the blue shipping container set design which I found worked well, the only other redeeming feature of the production for me was the actors themselves whose performances were good considering the flawed script. Jude Owusu as Charles Darnay and Marième Diouf as Lucie Manette in particular stood out on the revolving stage.

The production just tries too hard to be contemporary and relevant, with the actors street dancing to club music and announcing the chapter names for each scene. It would have been much better if it was condensed to a more cohesive adaptation in order to impact on the audience without coming across as contrived.

A Tale of Two Cities is a classic tale of poverty, injustice and the inequality between the rich and the poor, but unfortunately it drags on too long for the audience to really care about the characters and even understand what is happening. In this case, it was not the best of times, but the worst of times.

Reviewed by Alice Bzowska.
12 July 2017, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre