They are bringing the Dickens novel to the stage in Matthew Francis’ adaptation for the Festival of Chichester.
Performances take place from Wednesday, June 18 to Saturday, June 21 at 7.30pm (plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee) at the New Park Centre, New Park Road, Chichester.
For director Peter Waters, it’s the fulfilment of a long-held ambition.
“The Chichester Players invite people to offer suggestions and to offer themselves up for director. I thought I would put myself forward and offer this play – and for two reasons.
“The more general reason is that I am very interested in historical fiction. It’s my favourite genre that I like to read. I am a big fan of Dickens, and A Tale of Two Cities is my favourite one.
“The other reason is that in my past, I was running my own company and I was doing various theatre projects. I put myself forward to direct the play at a theatre in south London about 20 years ago, and I did a lot of work in preparation for it, but didn’t then get the job, much to my frustration. This has been in my head ever since as something that I must do one day.
“Having worked in the theatre a while back for quite a long time, it was never possible to do huge shows because of budgetary reasons. One of the attractions of doing this with the Chichester Players was because they can. They don’t pay their actors, and so once you have taken that out of the equation, it becomes possible.”
He is promising something rather special.
“If you are a Dickens fan, I think it is one of the best stories. It has got a terrific theme, and it is one of his shortest novels. If you read Nicholas Nickleby or Pickwick, they are very grand, rambling novels, but with A Tale of Two Cities, even though it was written episodically, it is far more focused as a novel. It rambles a lot less!
“But it is epic. It covers 17 years, and you have also got the fact that it builds to such a dramatic moment in history. What I have really enjoyed about preparation for this play has been reading about the French Revolution. I have read enough to get a flavour of what was going on. One of the keys that I learnt about this play is that Dickens is someone through his novels who talks about poverty and the lower classes, but here he turns it around a bit. He talks a lot about mob rule.
“It is a very good adaptation. Matthew Francis has done a good job. It is an exciting and very theatrical adaptation. There is no way in any medium that you can do justice to a 400-page novel, but for me, we have just got to take the audience along smoothly and speedily and make them accept that 17 years are passing.”
Peter has been greatly helped by a welcome discovery: “Chichester Players have got, as I discovered, this Tardis-like wardrobe department.
There is tons of stuff in there. They did David Copperfield last year, so there is quite a lot of that kind of stuff in there that we can use. They have just built it all up over the years, and I have got some very good costume people to help me sort it all out.
“It is a big job. We have got 18 in the cast playing around 30-plus parts, and if you have got one character that goes through the 17 years, they can’t wear the same thing all the time!”
Tickets on www.chichestertickets.co.uk.