A Tale of Two Cities at the King’s Head Theatre
A Tale of Two Cities is one of Dickens’ most successful novels, and in recent years has been made into eight film adaptations and five for television. This particular theatre production, adapted for the stage by Terence Rattigan and John Gielgud in the 30s has never previously been professionally staged until now, at the brilliant King’s Head Theatre in Islington.
The setting could not be more perfect: with the building dating back to the 1800s, the King’s Head Theatre was established as one of the first pub theatres in London since Shakespeare’s day in what was previously a boxing ring in the 60s. The theatre has a thrust stage and seating for little over 100 people making the venue almost overwhelmingly intimate. But what could be dismissed as little more than a cramped room and a few benches becomes one that is entirely immersive.
This sexily sinister take on Dickens’ classic tale takes over the audience with its unapologetic closeness. At one point a woman almost gets swiped in the face with a billowing coat, another has to duck to avoid being hit by a bare foot. The characters offstage stand beside the exits, seemingly daring you to try and make a quick toilet break, which you don’t for fear of breaking the spell.
The director, and artistic director of the theatre itself, Adam Spreadbury-Maher inspires the audience to think of the production not only as a rehashing of an old classic, but as a tale which transcends time. His tactics are to use what should be totally inconceivable: music transitions featuring Nirvana and Amy Winehouse, becomes almost acceptable, maybe even ingenious.
If you have not read the novel, there will be moments of understandable confusion due to there being 30 characters to only eight actors, but what overrides this is the command that the cast have over their varied roles. In so close a space even the subtlest shift in facial mannerisms can be caught – in actor Stewart Agnew’s two characters, as with Shelley Lang’s, we see a change so distinct that any confusion is instantly erased and the power of this darkly romantic tale is restored.
A Tale of Two Cities is at The King’s Head Theatre until 19th October 2013. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the trailer for A Tale of Two Cities here: