A Tale of Two Cities
First a quick look back - a long way back. As a girl I was taken to see The Only Way, a play based on A Tale of Two Cities with Martin Harvey as Sydney Carton. Martin Harvey was a matinee idol of the 20s/30s - though even when I saw him he was rather more evening than matinee, and when he came to say that "it was a far far better thing... the words sounded tired as if he'd said them so many times that he'd worn them out. Indeed there was I remember a kind of dust on the whole evening.
Recalling this made it clear to me how powerfully Adam Sutcliffe's and John Dansey's splendid production differed in every way - no dust here. From the start on the Dover road we are away into the perilous country of the emerging storm in France, whipped along by the unforgotten phrases "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" "Recalled to Life!" "One hundred and Five, North tower", "This from Jacques!" [on the stabbing of St Evremonde] - till we reach "It is a far far better thing....." We are engulfed in a story of passion, sudden death and supreme sacrifice - no holds barred, nothing held back.
This wa surely the most ambitious undertaking by the Players so far, and the movement of crowds, the grouping of players, the weaving of sound and colour all combined to achieve their remarkable success. Such an achievement demands the top of time, talent and energy from all concerned; in particular the supremely effective costumes by Alison Berryman, from Lucie's elegance to Jerry Cruncher's raggedness, to the delicate aristocracy of St Evremonde. And the ominously skilful lighting which intensified the high points of drama and led us through the complex maze of the story.
The players themselves were clearly playing to the top of their bent. Matthew Stevens cunningly divided himself into the Marquis St Evremonde and Jerry Cruncher - the first a finely disdainful aristocrat, and in Jerry a quintessential Dickensian, straight from the stable. Indeed the master's hand was evident in the whole cast. Stephen Tucker was almost unrecognisable as Mr Snottering - it was reassuring to see him more himself in small parts later, even if the last was on his way to the guillotine. Carton? Oh yes, Alex Goldfinch gave a fine picture of a ne'er-do-well who does so well in the end - his final speech was strong and moving. As Miss Pross Nina Trebilcock was wonderfully devoted and disapproving, and in the end tigerish for truth in her confrontation with Madame Defarge. And Madame Defarge herself was another revelation. I had never thought of her as young, more as a wizened tricoteuse, but Ellie Ball came over strongly with [in every sense] an edge of steel.
In the midst of all this John Willmer's Jarvis Lorry struck a fine note of upright sobriety, and was moving in his final recognition of what Carton was about to do. Another point of calm in the midst of turmoil played with dignity was Simon Malpas's Dr Manette. Natasha Lamper's Lucie was charming and made it entirely plausible that both the two leading men should be in love with her. And David Hunter played that most difficult of parts, the man to whom good is done, with conviction.
The whole of this large-scale production [skilfully adapted by Adam Sutcliffe ] is carried through with power and imagination. A flowing French flag and a cloud of smoke signifies the onset of the storm, and we are at the heart of that city with the red-capped republicans who - as the Narrator so accurately says - are headlong, mad and dangerous; the drums beat and we hear the sinister swish of the guillotine. Carton goes courageously to his death and - with a bloom of light at the windows - we are held in a moment's calm. In which to hear the echoes of a powerful and moving drama which stays in the mind - the story of two cities and the reign of terror. Congratulations to a body of dedicated people who, on the stage and behind it, produced the very best of times.
"Does your childhood seem far off?" asks Sydney Carton of the "hard upon four-score" Mr Jarvis Lorry. "No. For as I draw closer to the end I travel in a circle, nearer and nearer to the beginning. I remember my mother - so young and pretty - and I so old!".
Dickens was not an overtly Christian writer - and yet A TALE OF TWO CITIES is infused with themes of rebirth, redemption, the ability of love to triumph over hatred, and the value of self-sacrifice for the good and happiness of others.
Dr Manette - "buried alive" in the Bastille for 18 years, is "recalled to life" and is the first character whose 'resurrection' illustrate these themes.
Sydney Carton, the
canny advocate possessed of a sharp legal mind, has given up on the world,
become a drunkard and a wastrel, and spends his time in taverns. And yet
in the ultimate crisis he sees that his life can have a purpose and a
value after all. Once he has made up his mind, he is unwavering in his
determination to do what he knows is best for those he loves and holds
Even Jerry Cruncher
- the bank's messenger who moonlights as a graverobber (or as he prefers
to put it "a Resurrectionist ... doin' a noble service to the medical
profession besides makin' a bit of money for me-self") has a moment
of epiphany. As the full impact of the Terror comes crashing in on their
lives he makes a solemn promise to a bemused Miss Pross that "Never
no more will I do it, never no more!" (Miss Pross sensibly urges
him not to think it necessary to mention more particularly what "it"
is). He then takes his leave of Mr Lorry, but turns back, conscious that
this could be a final parting, to add: "er ... God Bless you, sir!"
Adam Sutcliffe & John Dansey