A Tale of Two Cities

Previewed 7 July 2017, Opened 13 July 2017, Closed 5 August 2017 at the Open Air Theatre Regent's Park

Matthew Dunster's new play, adapted from Charles Dickins, A Tale of Two Cities in London for a strictly limited four week season

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 spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us - Sound familiar? How much more do those in power think Europe’s poor can take? When will the people take to the streets of the cities and roar enough is enough?

The cast features Lydia Bradford as 'Irene / Clemence', Sean Cernow as 'Road Mender', Claire-Louise Cordwell as 'Madame Defarge', Marieme Diouf as 'Lucie Manette', Patrick Driver as 'Dr Manette', Nabil Elouahabi as 'Barsad', Lorna Gayle as 'Miss Pross', Lewis Griffin as 'Jacques 2', Nicholas Karimi as 'Sydney Carton', Nicholas Khan as 'Jerry Cruncher / Monseigneur', Andrew Koji as 'Jacques 1', Kevork Malikyan as 'Jarvis Lorry', Francesca Mills as 'Seamstress', Jude Owusu as 'Charles Darnay' and Tim Samuels as 'Monsieur Defarge' with Aliya Ali / Foyinsola Ighodalo / Olivea Puci as 'Little Lucie' and Evie Buxton / Mia Dalley / Kaitlyn Kou as 'Irene's Child'. directed by Timothy Sheader with movement by Liam Steel, designs by Fly Davis, video by Douglas O'Connell, lighting by Lee Curran and sound by Christopher Shutt.

PLEASE NOTE that the contemporary framing of this production includes moments of violence and the use of strong language.

When this production opened at the Open Air Theatre in July 2017, Neil Norman in the Daily Express wrote that "Timothy Sheader’s production of Matthew Dunster’s adaptation is beyond pitiful... Crude, patronising and irredeemably awful, it is like being bludgeoned to death by a rolled-up copy of the Socialist Worker. Unsurprisingly many of the audience left at the interval." Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail said that "this show — with its ugly exaggerations and foul language — struck me as a disaster, thoroughly unsuitable for children and for the benevolent Open-Air crowd. It jars with the elegance of the Dickens original. At the interval I saw 50 people leave — the first few having walked out after 20 minutes." Ann Treneman in the Times commented: "As Dickens would never have written: 'It was the most mediocre of times.' But then he didn't see this new play by Matthew Dunster, whose desperation to make this sweeping novel relevant to our times has reduced it to something that is hard to follow. You can hear the thud all the way to Paris... Dickens was a master of detail and plot but that is lost here." Henry Hitchings in the London Evening Standard explained how "Matthew Dunster's take on this story of sacrifice and injustice is ambitious, bringing a contemporary flavour to Dickens's portrait of revolutionary Paris and the comparative orderliness of London. It emphasises the hardships of poverty and the plight of refugees. But at times the insistence on topicality is crashingly unsubtle and the jagged dialogue makes the intricacies of the plot hard to follow." Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph noted that "you can't claim that the cast don't try their damnedest, or fail to find a sense of poignant uplift in the closing stages. If this were a community centre or refugee camp you might more admire its heartfelt aspirations than bewail its artless let-downs. On this stage, though, it looks like an act of vandalism; the best of books, the worst of shows." Sarah Hemming in the Financial Times complained that "the narrative is unclear and sketchy, leaving characters underdeveloped — fatal in a story that needs emotional engagement... But this contemporary context is not developed or properly fused with the original, leaving it feeling rather crude... the staging is hit and miss." Michael Billington in the Guardian described how "this version, mixing modern and 18th-century costume, tries to have the best of both worlds by combining Dickens’ narrative with images of the refugee camp at Sangatte: the result is a fearful muddle."

The weather Every theatre performance is unique, but this is especially the case here at the Open Air Theatre where both the stage and auditorium seating are completely uncovered and open to the elements. It is therefore best to come prepared for all types of weather. It is particularly important to bring a jumper for the end of evening performances. Bad weather may mean that performances have to be stopped and be re-started but, on average, 94% of performances are completed each season. In the event that the performance is abandoned due to bad weather, no refunds are given, but you can exchange your tickets for a future performance. Performances are never cancelled prior to the start time. Please speak to a member of staff on the evening.

"Guillotines should be used off stage as well as on in Matthew Dunster's adaptation of Dickens's French Revolution novel. Dunster and director Timothy Sheader parade their social consciences with a series of cheap contemporary parallels instead of creating a coherent narrative. This is the most exploitative production of the year. Having marketed it on the strength of Dickens's name, those involved proceed to betray both audience and author. The writing is crude, the direction clumsy, the design ugly and much of the acting amateurish." The Sunday Express

"This unhappy Dickens adaptation has been shorn of a gratuitous sex scene that raised hackles in previews. You may yet feel an itch for the guillotine. Matthew Dunster's protracted text fumbles Dickens's plot, in which a disguised French aristocrat (a grave Jude Owusu) and his family in London are fatally drawn to Paris at the height of the Terror... Set in and around three huge storage containers, it begins in our own time. Timothy Sheader and Dunster view the 1859 novel as a fable of social injustice: this works best when marshalling Dickens's declamatory narration and creating dioramas of human misery. It's vivid in sound and image, vigorous in movement, but the dialogue scenes are fatally lumpen and the story is all but incoherent. It might be quicker to read the novel, and certainly more exciting. A far, far better thing to do would be to stay at home." The Sunday Times

"Matthew Dunster's ambitious stage adaptation, which is so obviously filled with the best of intentions in attempting to turn it into a contemporary piece about refugees seeking asylum in Britain from present-day revolutions abroad, succeeds only in being the worst of times dramatically. The major problem is incoherence on its own terms, never mind Dickens’s, because the transposition simply doesn’t fit. Colour-blind casting is clearly meant to make a political as well as a theatrical point, but when the plot hinges on two men being so alike that they may be mistaken for one another, this blatant contradiction adds to the confusion. It's clunkily staged in and on three blue shipping containers... Little by little in Timothy Sheader's shouty, frantic, overthought but undercooked production, some of the cast change into Victorian dress, presumably to suggest the timelessness of this tale but instead further contributing to the muddle." The Mail on Sunday

A Tale of Two Cities in London at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre previewed from 7 July 2017, opened on 13 July 2017 and closed on 5 August 2017.

Two Cities at the Palace Theatre 1969

Previewed 15 February 1969, Opened 27 February 1969, Closed 5 April 1969 at the Palace Theatre

A musical adaptation of Charles Dickens' classic novel by Constance Cox with music by Jeff Wayne and lyrics by Jerry Wayne. The cast featured Edward Woodward as 'Sydney Carton', Kevin Colson as 'Charles Darnay', Elizabeth Power as 'Lucie Manette, Nicolette Roeg as 'Madame Defarge' and Leone Greene as 'Monsieur Defarge'. Directed by Vivian Matalon.