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A Tale of Two Cities: Blood for Blood review at Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh – ‘ambitious’

A publicity image for A Tale of Two Cities: Blood for Blood
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In A Tale of Two Cities: Blood for Blood, Red Shift introduces a neat device to condense Charles’ Dickens historical novel.

The story of conspiracy, espionage, sacrifice and the rebirth of society in Revolutionary France is reduced to 90 minutes by stripping it into soundbites and clipped scenes as if it were an old radio report. Throw in the production’s left-field use of music, light and shadow, and the result is an ambitious piece of theatre noire with tinges of a classic death row movie.

An abstract design evokes what might be a 1940s press room, the stage crisscrossed by row upon row of empty straight-backed chairs. At the centre of this is the sound lighting box, manned by writer/director Jonathan Holloway, who also plays Dr Manette. Serried newsroom lamps hang down the two sides, swung by characters to punctuate the proceedings with yellow light, or to highlight the cast as they line up at the mics underneath in a cappella song to roll the plot along.

The seven cast members have impressive stamina and make a strong, versatile ensemble. Their multiple roles vividly shape the very different worlds of London and Paris – populated by the likes of the honourable aristocrat Charles Darnay, cynical barrister Sydney Caton, broken Dr Manette, genteel Lucie Manette and poisonous Madame Defarge.

Through his script and direction, Holloway funnels the dramatic energy via snappy dialogue and movement across the aisles of chairs, fuelled by Sara Llewellyn’s moody soundtrack and vocal arrangements. At times, though, the action becomes cluttered and the vocal side of the music seems strangely under-utilised

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Ambitious retelling of Dickens’ classic with snappy dialogue but occasional cluttered action