A Tale of Two Cities: Blood for Blood

Wed 3rd – Sun 28th August 2016

reviews

Jessica Baxter

at 09:13 on 8th Aug 2016

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Everything about this adaption rivals those of large-scale, glitzy West End productions. This extraordinary retelling of Dickens’s well-thumbed classic asks the big, sticky questions that Shakespeare himself first asked: what does grief do to a person? Is love worth dying for? What does it mean to be you? Just the typical, light-hearted stuff, then.

Peculiar, eerie, yet pitilessly moving, Jonathon Holloway’s ‘A Tale of Two Cities: Blood for Blood’ displaces the cosy, familiar favourite of Dickens’s imagination in lieu of something brutally Orwellian; the events are relocated to a timeless place resembling 1920s London. Though stripped of its original language, the story’s infrastructure remains the same and is not difficult to follow even if, like me, you’ve put 'A Tale of Two Cities' in the ‘books I should probably read at some point but haven’t yet’ pile.

Holloway’s collaboration with Hong Kong company Chung Ying is effectively abstract. A striking visual element was the immediate stage set-up: a sea of precisely positioned, empty metal chairs mirroring the audience, like a studentless examination room. The blank uniformity of each chair evokes a hollow dystopian image, and the narrative that follows is equally bleak.

Acts of passion and energy are diluted into beautiful, delicate moments, symbolised by the prop of shoes, with each pair pervaded by a different emotional charge. Instead of raunchy snogs or awkward touching, Sidney simply and tenderly removes Lucie’s delicate lace-ups to show they have finally consummated their stifled secret love. Rather than an overtly brutal murder scene, one character simply and gently removes the shoes from his victim. The theme of identity, too, is embodied in the prop of shoes: ‘You’re mad,’ Darnay cries to the Lady Macbeth-like Defarge.

‘Wouldn’t you be? If you were in our shoes?’ she fires back.

With no exception, the ensemble acting is flawless in each performance. An actor’s voice can boom through the auditorium, sometimes into a microphone to produce a hazy, distant tone. Overlapping language links together like a constant song. Voices rest atop dramatic violins and dialogue builds up into a haunting refrain sung pitch perfect by the actors, in between scenes to indicate the passing of time.

This heartfelt play is about love, loss and everything in between. I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys traditional theatre and fancies being spooked or having a bit of a cry.

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Caragh Aylett

at 09:27 on 8th Aug 2016

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'A Tale of Two Cities: Blood for Blood' is an adaptation of the classic Dickens novel by actors from Red Shift Productions and Seabright Productions. Appearing at the Fringe from their acclaimed Hong Kong season, the company certainly do not disappoint.

The plot stays true to the original but is very much condensed. Perhaps this prevents full development of individual characters but the audience certainly does not feel robbed of this. Indeed, while some characters are only met briefly they are played with a sense of history and meaning which allows the audience to grasp a solid idea of who they are. In some places the cast play multiple different roles and where this occurs the change is clear and the acting is consistently impeccable - throughout the acting is stunning and flawless.

The stage is set with rows of chairs each with a pair of shoes underneath. In one scene the shoes are used to represent the deaths of children which is subtle and poignant. In contrast, during a separate scene the chairs are smashed to signify the storming of the Bastille. Through this the set contributes to the progression of the story while also meaning that the actors do not require any other props, giving the piece a fluidity. Towards the edges of the stage there are microphones through which the cast present narration or internal thoughts to the audience, this compliments the structure of the play and contributes to understanding. The simple nature of the set allows the audience to focus entirely on the quality of the acting and the plot of the piece, which is beneficial since the plot is complicated in parts.

The piece is beautifully underscored by an onstage pianist along with the voices of the cast. The music was subtle and eloquent and is the perfect setting to the performance. The pianist also plays a role in the performance and this shift to actor is smooth and effective. The pianist remains on stage complimenting the stylistic decision to not allow the actors to leave the stage at any point - when they are not acting they sit on the onstage chairs. This appears as a subtle nod towards Brechtian theatrical ideas but still allows the audience to be entirely engaged in the plot. Indeed, the audience's investment in the piece is certainly obvious when the lights came up and many were left with tears in their eyes at the fate of Sydney Carton.

'A Tale of Two Cities: Blood for Blood' is an incredible piece of theatre that is both flawlessly acted and beautifully staged. It left me with teary eyes and a sense of the difficulties of 18th century France - it is truly wonderful.

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