A Tale of Two Cities

Choreographed by Cathy Marston
Northern Ballet Theatre
Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, and touring

Production photo

'It was the best of times; it was the worst of times'
'It is a far far better thing that I do now than I have ever done before'.

These are the opening and closing sentiments of A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens, and were familiar to most people educated in the early days of the last century, but as this is a ballet, they are not spoken but realised by the strength of the dance, the music and the movement in the Northern Ballet production.

The action is set during the French Revolution, taking place in two cities, Paris and London, demonstrating the horror of the behaviour of the aristocrats towards the poor in Paris and their response growing greater till it broke into the equally destructive revolution by the masses. Caught up in this was a family of a young doctor Manette whose daughter eventually marries the disowned son of one of the aristos, Charles Darnay. He finds himself in prison because of his background, but his family have escaped to London where a somewhat dissolute lawyer, Sidney Carton crosses to Paris, gets into the prison, drugs Darnay and takes his place on the guillotine - a far far better....

The expected superlative performance by Northern Ballet Theatre opened with loud brass and woodwind from the orchestra to which Dr Manette (Hironao Takahashi) wrote his secret letter and hammered it into his boot with blows in time to the music. In keeping with the difficult themes of this ballet, based on Charles Dickens' story, the stage was a series of sombre browns, as were many of the costumes, but the dancing and the choreography were vivid and exciting from beginning to end, a tribute to choreographer Cathy Marston. The music, composed by Dave Maric, added enormously to the atmosphere on stage and produced a dimension of striking originality.

The complicated story wound itself between Paris and London with varying periods represented by different aged characters with the red marked cravat a constant reminder of the past. The sordid battles between the aristos and the prostitutes and peasants leads to fiery action by all the dancers, and on occasions the story gets a bit lost amongst the interactions of the various protagonists. The scene changes were beautifully managed, with the minimum of materials, casually altering from wine bar to dockside, and aristos to starving Parisians.

Perhaps the cleverest and most unusual piece is the dance between the four lawyers and their juniors accompanied by the four desks at which they compose their legal briefs - it is not often that one sees a set of desks dancing so effectively. More vicious was the violence portrayed by the Marquis de St Evremonde who managed a murder, a whipping and a rape, danced by Steven Wheeler in his last season with the Ballet.

The legendary Sidney Carton (Kenneth Tindall) did his far better thing in the manner of the not greatly accomplished junior lawyer that he was, though this was a credit to his dancing and not a criticism of the way the character was represented.

What might perhaps wonder what Dickens would have commented; I cannot believe he would have been other than pleased at the additional dimension offered to his story.

At Sheffield until 4th October, then the winter tour of "A Tale of Two Cities"; "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "The Nutcracker" continues to Bradford, Alhambra 21 - 25 October; Canterbury, Marlowe 28 October - 1 December; New, Hull 4 - 8 November; New Victoria, Woking - 11 - 15 November; Milton Keynes, 25 - 29 November; Royal, Bath, 2 -6 December; Grand, Leeds, 17 - 31 December

Reviewer: Philip Seager

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