A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities
By Charles Dickens. Adapted by Terence Rattigan and John Gielgud. Edited by Adam Spreadbury-Maher. Director Adam Spreadbury-Maher. The Q – Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre. 5-16 February 2014. Australian Premiere

What a coup for the Q to have nabbed not only the first Australian rights to the contemporary revival of this Terrance Rattigan/John Gielgud play, but also to have secured the direction of Adam Spreadbury-Maher, who both rescued the play from obscurity and edited it down to its essence. Spreadbury-Maher’s take has a decadent 1960s aesthetic, full of surreal elements and interesting anachronisms.

A cast of stalwarts and newbies brings raw energy to the production, although it still needs a little polish to really shine. Calen Robinson plays both antihero Sydney Carton and the Marquis de la Evrémonde. His Marquis is a psychopathic gay aristocrat in the Caligula mode. In contrast, as young lawyer Sydney Carton he is a drunken, apathetic, lethargic hipster.

Laura Dawson and Daniel Greiss were sweet and sincere as lovers Lucie Manette and Charles Darnay. Newcomer Donald Smith’s portrayal of Dr Manette was extraordinarily good, notably his shell-shocked, near psychotic state when the character first appears.

Hannah Ley was fabulous, as always. Here she plays Madame Defarge with ghoulish glee and comic relief Edward Striver as a particularly farce prone suitor. The choice of Striver’s courting costume featuring an underbust steampunk corset was inspired, to say the least.

There were a few first night wobbles possibly due to first night nerves, mainly missed cues and fumbled lines, and occasions when energy and timing flagged. These stumbles aside, all the cast acquit themselves well.

The strong set of simple white architectural elements with lighting providing the mood changes works well. Clever use was made of various forms of amplification. For instance, the use of an old-fashioned loud hailer by a judge emphasised how he was both ridiculous and authoritarian.

Congrats to the Q team for a fine start to the season.

Cathy Banister

Images: Hanna Ley and whole cast. Photographer: Ben Appleby

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