Review- A Tale of Two Cities: Blood for Blood- Chung Ying Theatre


By: Justine Denning


A darkened stage. Dozens of identical chairs, row by row. Leather shoes, broken and new. Low hanging lamps casting shadows and the occasional warm pools of light. A single chair suspended from the ceiling. An amphitheatre with an atmosphere of anticipation. Welcome to John Holloways reimagining of one of Charles Dickens' most prolific texts. 


Set during the period of the French Revolution, Holloway has preserved the dialogue and the core themes of the original text- that of social inequality and the role of the individual, in this dynamic interpretation. Holloway himself performed the role of the frail Dr Manette whilst also being the lighting designer, actor and playwright. It's an extraordinary body of work to behold. 


The cast of seven is strong and their individual abilities to play a duplicity of characters throughout the production is never distracting or questionable, their use of accent and physicality is natural and highly disciplined. Mike Rogers in particular, is strong in his character reinventions and his understated performance as Monsieur Defrage draws conflicting emotions from the viewer, both that of empathy and fear, one for his desire for retribution and another from his utter devotion to his wife.


Nicki Hobday plays the role of Mme Defarge, the mother of a murdered child determined for revenge. It is heartbreaking to watch, her moments of sincerity in exposing this grief are aptly handled, surrounded by the remainder of those empty chairs and empty shoes. It brought tears to the eyes to be reminded of how these themes are not unfamiliar today, families are still torn apart for unjust reasons and some shoes will never be worn again,  journeys abruptly and unfairly ended. The simplicity of this concept, represented in turn with props remaining on stage at all times, worked extraordinarily well in a play so fraught with fear and entrapment. Chairs are swiftly broken in anger and the sounds of broken hearts resounds in the amphitheatre. 


Music is also integral in this adaptation. Sarah Llewellyn, who is the Composer and Sound designer, has created a electric-acoustic score; 'with distinctive music helping to illustrate the passing of time and the journeys within the play'.  It is soft and captivating. The actors themselves performing the vocal chorus on the edges of the stage. It helps to distinguish where the numerous locations begin and end. It's an interesting idea, one which fits with the limited use of lighting and props. It eases the numerous transitions needed in this enormous text which covers many exchanges between the locations of England and France. 


Grameme Rose is steady in the portrayal of his characters journey, as the talented but troubled lawyer Sydney Carton. We are convinced of his love for Lucie Manette (Abby Wain) and his conflicting loyalty to her husband, Charles Darnay. Played with spirit by James Camp. 


A particularly informative scene is that of the courtroom, where Charles Darnay is initially saved by Sydney Carton's skills as a lawyer and his connection to Jarvis Lorry (Eric MacLennan) . Here Lorry informs the audience that they are not corrupt, whilst it being evidently so, for the world needs educated people. This is a direct reference to the problems in mentality which occurred in France, ultimately leading to the terrors. Holloway has deliberately addressed this to the audience in an almost Brechtian fashion, drawing attention to the ideology which is the essence of the piece. Corruption is not only limited to France in the 1800's, regardless of where the villainy is set in this piece, it exists everywhere. We mustn't forget that regardless of our own personal ideologies and preferences, corruption exists within our own society and establishments.


Costume is used minimally. A slight suggestion would be for the use of more distinctive clothing to further distinguish character changes which could also help with the pacing of the production. Another comment would be for an interval for the show. This is a slight technical critique and not a negative criticism of the play itself. This only would bother certain audience members because the seating arrangement becoming uncomfortable after sitting for such a long period of time. 


This is an expertly devised adaptation and one which is true to the original text. It is refreshingly staged and emotionally gripping.  A testament to Jonathan Holloway's innovation.


A Tale of Two Cities: Blood for Blood is playing through May 1st. For more information, click here.


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Rate This Show: 1 2 3 4 5 Audience Rating: 4.1


  • Being Objective
    01 May 2016

    5 Stars? I thought it was the most pretentious, bland and humorless play I've seen in a long time. The staging did not work for me at all; the chairs blocked the actors from their natural body language and the movements lacked flow.
    I sat right in front of the stage and I was lucky to get a decent view, however the actors were blocked in a way that those sitting on the side could probably see 30% of what was going on.
    There's much better theatre out there as you know. Save your 5 balloons for those plays.

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