Preview: A Tale of Two Cities – Blood for Blood

A tale of two cities and two nations

Preview: Blood for Blood

Having established himself as a fearless and provocative director through Red Shift, Jonathan Holloway's collaboration with Hong Kong company Chung Ying is an ambitious adaptation of Charles Dickens’s epic Tale of Two Cities. With a set composed of 80 empty chairs, Holloway's vision is both spectacular and intimate.

Despite the scale of the staging, Holloway imagines Tale of Two Cities as 'less about epic narrative, and more about love and loss – essentially the bereavement of the Defarges and Carton’s obsessive desire for Lucie Manette, which leads him to sacrificing his life.'

Yet this story is placed within a grand context through the symbolism of the empty chairs: 'Every empty chair implies a missing person, consumed by revolution, suicide, disease, accident,' he continues. 'The rigid layout means the actors have to negotiate the rows of chairs, which are to some degree a constant impediment.' The set itself constrains and frames the tragedy.

The previous collaboration between Chung Ying and Holloway, Jekyll and Hyde consciously developed an approach to theatre that incorporated music and a youthful dynamism to challenge the traditional 'respectful' approach to adapting classic texts. By homing in on the detail of the characters' stories, Holloway opens up the theatrical potential of the novel without losing its grand scope.

Holloway's direction reveals his appreciation of theatre's power to move. 'I don’t understand it when theatre makers talk disparagingly about emotional manipulation,' he says. 'I’m an entertainer.' In a Fringe environment, where performance is often presented with minimal spectacle, Blood for Blood offers an example of large scale drama.

Ultimately, this collaboration combines a passion for story-telling and a belief in the transcendental nature of performance itself. As Holloway concludes, Blood for Blood is driven by a desire to 'celebrate the emotional plain of everyday existence as if it has the status of Greek tragedy.'

Pleasance Courtyard (Beyond), 3–28 Aug, 2.40pm, £6.

A Tale of Two Cities: Blood for Blood

  • 4 stars

Chung Ying Theatre Company, Red Shift Productions and Seabright Productions Dickens’ classic of heroism, espionage and revenge is thrillingly reimagined by multi award-winning writer-director Jonathan Holloway. Direct from acclaimed Hong Kong season. ‘Red Shift are a terrific company.’ (Scotsman).


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