A Tale of Two Cities

Photo by Tristram Kenton

A Tale of Two Cities by Lost Dog – The Place, London

There are very few companies who do what Lost Dog does so well – seamlessly combining theatre and contemporary dance, as though this was an obvious way to tell a story. In fact, their work is exceptionally skilled and original, and very easy to get wrong. With ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, they have taken on a complicated and occasionally baffling Dickens tome, which could be a Nicholas Nickleby-style epic in different hands. Naturally, they do not put a foot wrong. Ben Duke directs a larger cast than previous Lost Dog productions, with five dancers juggling multiple roles. His approach owes something to the company’s brilliant Juliet & Romeo – looking back at a well-known story and questioning the assumptions of its main characters. Dickens’ ‘Tale of Two Cities’ is examined by Lucie Manette, who was seven when her mother (of the same name) name whisked her and her father Charles Darnay out of revolutionary Paris, escaping the guillotine. She is making a documentary about what happened, interviewing her reluctant parents and brother on camera.

The camera provides our view of past events in many scenes, filmed out of our sight behind the ruined walls of a Parisian hovel, and projected onto screens. Her parents’ secrets – the sacrifice of their friend Sydney Carton who sends himself to execution in place of Charles, and his love for Lucie, and Charles’ evil aristocratic family – are drawn out through Lucie probing. So is the kidnapping and rape of Mme. Defarge’s sister by said aristocrats. Lucie (an engaging and amusing Nina-Morgane Madelaine) guides the audience through these complex events, but Lost Dog does such a good job of expressing the key moments that we are never in any doubt about what’s happening.

The production thrills in the scenes where the cast go beyond words and burst into movement. The combined forces of Temitope Ajose-Cutting, Valentina Formenti, John Kendall and Hannes Langolf alongside Madelaine, are something to be reckoned with. A slow motion riot scene, cast wrestling grimly with one another, and a ship-board scene on a cross-Channel ship, Formenti and Langolf hanging onto the imagined rigging as they talk, are familiar techniques but rarely performed with such precision. Other scenes – Ajose-Cutting losing her core, physically, as she discovers what really happened to her sister, and Kendall dancing a jig on the end of a hangman’s rope, while a timer counts down the excruciatingly slow 3 minutes it takes him to die, are actively astonishing. The show is both an intellectually rigorous re-examination of a tale taken for granted, and a piece of pure entertainment. Ben Duke continues to be one of the theatre-makers of our time, demonstrating exactly why dance matters.

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