The Dickens of a tale

It's a great epic novel, and it's working epically well on stage. A Tale Of Two Cities plays Brighton Theatre Royal from November 1-5, with Jacob Ifan making his professional theatre debut as Charles Darnay.

Jon Tarcy and Jacob Ifan
Jon Tarcy and Jacob Ifan

Best known for playing the lead role of PC Jake Vickers on the BBC’s recent TV series Cuffs, Jacob is delighted to be back so soon in the city in which so much of police series was filmed.

He graduated a year ago last summer, and Cuffs was his first show out of drama school. In fact, he’d already started on it before he graduated – a great way, he laughs, of proving to his family that he could actually get a job out of acting.

“It was brilliant. It felt scary and intimidating to start with. Nothing can prepare you for what it is going to be like when you actually get on the set. No one knows how to do it until they actually do it, but we had such a lovely supportive cast. We loved it, and we thought that everyone was going to come back.”

Instead the BBC promptly announced it would not be commissioning a second series: “There are so many things going on behind the scenes, the background politics that we don’t hear about. But we were already talking about what we were going to do next. It was a big shame – and a big shame for us. But it shows that you can never plan too far ahead. But I am just glad to be back in Brighton now with this show.”

Dickens considered his novel, A Tale Of Two Cities the best story he had ever written. Interweaving one family’s intensely-personal drama with the terror and chaos of the French Revolution, it offers an epic story of love, sacrifice and redemption amidst horrific violence and world-changing events.

A Tale Of Two Cities was first produced in Northampton in 2014, to great critical and public acclaim, and was director James Dacre’s inaugural production at the theatre. Adapted by Mike Poulton (Fortune’s Fool, Old Vic and Broadway, Wolf Hall RSC, West End and Broadway), and with an original score by Oscar-winning composer Rachel Portman (The Cider House Rules, Beloved), it is now on the road.

The professional company will perform alongside a chorus of twelve actors drawn from the local community to capture the turbulence, anarchy and romance of London and Paris during the tumultuous years of the French Revolution: “It is a big novel, but that’s where Mike’s skills as a writer come to the fore. He has managed to cherry-pick everything you would want out of the novel. It is written in segments and chapters that were distributed weekly or monthly. Dickens had to constantly remind people what had happened in the previous chapter, so there is a lot that you can weed out straight away. I read the book when I found out I was doing it. I was very last minute. It was confirmed that it was happening for me four days before rehearsals, so I did as much research as I could in those four days! But we spent the first week going through everything anyway. Naturally I suspect there are differences from the first production. Things evolve, but the heart and the story are exactly the same.”

So does it help that he is walking into an established success?

“You feel almost an added pressure. There is a safety blanket because you think that people are going to like it. You know it is not so much of a gamble, but you have got to try not to compare yourself to the last production. I am glad that I didn’t see it!”

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