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Edinburgh Fringe 2016

A Tale of Two Cities: Blood for Blood

Chung Ying Theatre Company, Red Shift Productions and Seabright Productions

Genre: Adaptation, Contemporary, Theatre

Venue: Pleasance


Low Down

“Dickens’ classic of heroism, espionage and revenge is thrillingly reimagined by multi award-winning writer-director Jonathan Holloway.”


This is an excellent, very creative and well acted production based on the Charles Dickens classic. It is completely reimagined and set in the present. The play, full of espionage and intensity is fascinating, surreal, looks stunning and cleverly weaves Dickens’ characters through modern times.

Written and Directed by the award winning Jonathan Holloway of the Red Shift company, the play is produced by Hong Kong’s Chung Yung Theatre Company and Red Shift. Holloway is also in the play as Doctor Manette and serves as lighting designer.

Six outstanding actors play all the characters with clarity and finesse – James Camp, Nicki Hobday, Eric MacLennan, Mike Rogers, Graeme Rose and Abby Wain. They are remarkably astute and compelling as they navigate a sea of chairs, using no props and little in the way of costume changes. For they are able to instinctively become different characters by adjustments in the tone of their voice or well defined physicality. The tempo of this production is slick and seamless which requires split second timing, listening and collaboration on the part of the actors, and they all rise to the occasion superbly.

The stylized set full of chairs – beautifully designed by Neil Irish – each with a pair of shoes underneath is an impactful metaphor for the people no longer living and visually reverberates through the ninety minute show on the level of Dickensian times, the present and the decades in between. At each side of the stage are lines of microphones, used several times for narration and intriguing vocalizing. Indeed, this plateau is complex and streamlined, which is a perfect match for the story that is on the surface a simple tale of adventure but enmeshes such a dramatic undercurrent.

Watching the story unfold is fascinating as the characters emerge from the darkness and the abstract storytelling begins. It takes a while to get fully engaged and the moment I really connected is the first brief scene with Sydney Carton and Lucy Manette. It is poignant and sets up an emotional conflict amid the numerous other equally important and interesting conflicts steeped in atrocities, espionage, heroism and revenge.

Dickens’ story is condensed very effectively with some characters cleverly merged but it is still a substantial piece of theatre, detailed and as mysterious as the original. The relationships in Dickens’ literary novel, told visually, physically and with minimal dialogue in this piece emotively express longing, waiting, loss and sacrifice.

Music composed by Sarah Llewellyn is dramatic and immersing, complementing and underscoring the action and atmosphere. Holloway’s moody light design is like another character in the show, which is generally dark with interesting additions such as bluish or warm yellowish tinges that highlight areas onstage for intimate or wider scenes.

Symbolism and creative devising are integrated brilliantly during the play. Without giving away too much, some of my favourite moments are when Sydney gives Lucy a pair of child’s shoes, how they storm the Bastille and Carton’s demise.

This is fine theatre, sincerely performed in an innovative theatrical style by a dynamic ensemble with an emotional range. The ensemble stretches a classical tale and breaks out – beyond expectations. This play – as it is designed and acted – with a few minor tweaks, could fit in to international theatre festivals or stand on its own produced in a discerning theatre anywhere. It’s that good!