Tale of Two Cities: Blood for Blood
Ambitious retelling of Dickens' revolutionary novel
Adapted from Charles Dickens' sprawling story of love, honour and class war during the French Revolution, Jonathon Holloway's production with Chung Ying works on a scale rarely glimpsed at the Fringe. Rows of chairs – symbolising the dead of the revolution but an obstacle to the actors – surround the cast, with Holloway himself playing a senile 'hero of the revolution' at the centre. Around him, the mean-spirited champions of liberty, and the conservative British lawyers play out the drama that ends in one man offering up the greatest sacrifice.
In a strong cast, Graeme Rose's Sydney Carton stands out: he imbues the reluctant hero with charisma and warmth, making his decision to go to the scaffold in place of chinless wonder Charles Darnay appropriately heartbreaking.
Holloway's decision to cut the drama back to the central love story converts Dickens' wide social commentary into a relatively simple tragedy. Taking some time to set all the characters and their relationships in place, the script eventually locks into the rhythm of the inevitable finale, in which order is restored by one man's intelligence and bravery.
However, even the scheming French are given some degree of sympathy – their desire for revenge, although extreme, is founded in oppression – and the script recognises the moral compromises made by the supposedly stable British state against the threat of France's spirit of equality reaching its borders.
However, the dynamism of the production comes from the personal, not the political. Carton becomes a tragic hero, similar to the flawed saints of Graham Greene, while the empty chairs, far from being a vague symbol of the revolution's ghastly cost, become the moral labyrinth that the characters are forced to negotiate.
Pleasance Courtyard, until 29 Aug (not 24), 2.40pm, £12–£13 (£11–£12).