Charles Dickens said on its publication that A Tale of Two Cities was the best story he had written. Not everybody agreed. The novel has never been popular with critics. But it has always been hugely popular with the general reader, ever since its weekly serialisation throughout 1859.
In January 1860 the story was on the stage, adapted by Tom Taylor. Dickens, a keen amateur actor, acted as consultant. Dickens loved theatre and one of the reasons his novels have adapted so well to stage and screen was because they were so melodramatic: melodrama was the most popular form of entertainment in Victorian theatre.
Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay, two young men of the same age who have an uncanny resemblance to each other, love the same woman. Carton, a drunk, degenerate wastrel, tired of life, finally finds redemption in Paris during the Reign of Terror. His self-sacrifice remains the most celebrated in 19th-century literature and his exit lines are among the most often quoted.
Mike Poulton, who adapted Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies for the stage, has done a first-rate job here and director James Dacre cleverly creates an epic performance with limited funds. This very enjoyable touring production – with a good cast headed by Joseph Timms as Carton and Jacob Ifan as Darnay – has plenty of pace and urgency and is strongly recommended to all those who love Dickens and good old-fashioned melodrama.
The Libertine, in Stephen Jeffreys’s play at Theatre Royal, Haymarket, is John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, a notorious rake, the quintessence of debauchery and the wittiest of the Restoration poets. He lived his short, licentious life to excess and was dead by 33. The role was created by John Malkovich on stage in 1994 and Johnny Depp on film in 2004.
Jeffreys has cut and rewritten the script. Terry Johnson’s unashamedly crude revival features Dominic Cooper; and it is Cooper, rather than the play – which is still flawed – who will be bringing in the audiences.
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