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A Tale Of Two Cities at The Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

The last few years, in particular 2013, it is simple to say, I have "found" theatre. What started from an accidental drop in for a play on the spur of a moment in London a few years back, kindled an interest that I frankly didn't know I had. Since then, money allowing, I have made my way to London on a Saturday to do a matinee and an evening performance in the theatre land of the West End. The place of the best plays, the best performers, the best experience.

Turns out, this isn't true. Having been a bit snobby about the situation, I failed to realise that a mere ten minutes or so walk from home, there was a place of equal, no, better quality. Having witnessed overly positive comments on Twitter this week of the new "Made In Northampton" play at the Royal, an adaptation of Dickens' A Tale Of Two Cities, I suddenly thought why not! Having been a fan of Dickens' stories for as long as I can remember (adaptions rather than reading, having always found him a difficult author to get into), I thought maybe this was the time to give the local theatre land a go.

What a quality decision it was to make, as for less than my train fare to London, I was presented with probably the most polished and absorbing plays, maybe superior to all I had seen in London. Oddly, I believe I had already been won over that this was going to be quality before the play even started. As the members of the audience gathered and found their seats, the whole company were visible through a shear curtain moving gently through the stage singing. The ladies moved through singing then froze, the gents walked through and froze. Wonderfully choreographed, hard to explain without seeing it, but a detail outside of the main performance that smacked that this was going to be a polished show.

Not having been for many a year, I was surprised at how compact the Royal is. This was emphasised by the fact that from the outset the stage was billowing with people as the large ensemble took to the stage (and indeed the first scene Waldorf and Statlers boxes). This was the first time I had seen a play in recent times where I wasn't actually familiar with any of the cast, but as the program clearly showed these were all actors of stage calibre and it showed throughout the performance.

Although not really wanting to single out anyone, as I really think there wasn't a dud performer amongst them. I have to say that Yolanda Kettle and Oliver Dimsdale stuck out for me personally. Both playing single, leading roles were brilliant. Kettle, effervescent as Lucie and Dimsdale as the self confessed failure Sydney, but eventually far from it, was gripping and effortless in his performance.

The stage, costume, props and scenic wise was also exemplary. Quiet scenes played simply with just tables and chairs, grander moments with France collapsing into anarchy with more dramatic settings towards the back of the stage. Nothing however was too big, and for the small setting of the Royal this was appropriate, but powerful in its own way.

Much has also been said of the music composed by no less, an Oscar winning artist in the name of Rachel Portman. This was indeed perfection, soft when needed and loud and dramatic as scenes required. Mike Poulton's adaption is also a wonder, breaking a meaty story into a manageable two and a half hours would never be easy, but he has done a most sterling job. Finally director James Dacre, who has gelled it all together to perfection in his first at the Royal & Derngate.

It is safe to say, I have done the hometown theatre a disservice, but rest assured in 2014, I think I shall find myself quite a few times. Indeed my ticket for The Body Of An American awaits its use.

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