We had the privilege of speaking to director Jonathan Holloway after the premiere of his re-imagining of Charles Dickens’ seminal novel A Tale of Two Cities, commissioned by Hong Kong's very own Chung Ying Theatre. Holloway, who also takes the stage in this latest iteration, mentions the interview we had done with him previously, saying that 'most of it was probably bluff'. Fortunately, we also have the privilege to disagree with this sentiment.
The setting from the opening curtain is skeletal: rows and rows of chairs, with Holloway’s character seated in the middle, a quiet observer, and sometimes a reluctant participant in the tumultuous events that unfold. As the play moves forward, the setting falls into greater degrees of disarray, each character’s frustrations and mistakes realised in splinters.
Holloway successfully transposes a strikingly clear interpretation of Dickens’ original message, in a form that can not only be described as economical but minimalist, and clean. The setting is further supported by an equally minimal but absurdly talented seven-strong cast, each actor and actress playing multiple roles throughout the play. Each dramatis persona displays not only a firm grasp of character, but an electrifying emotional range.
For fans of the novel, the manner in which Holloway's narrative unfolds should be straighforward enough – even if it is often obscured by the mise-en-scène's overt denial of space, time and place. If one enters the play not fully familiar with A Tale Of Two Cities, however, they run the risk of missing some of the depth and political intrigue.
Despite that, everything that Holloway made clear in his aforementioned interview with us came to pass. The themes of grief, the stripping away of Dickensian theatricality, the political intrigue and the pertinence of damaged human relationships are all brought to the forefront. And with the performance polished and ready for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, presented by Chung Ying this August, it will be even more obvious that Holloway and Charles Dickens are very much on the same artistic page.
By Josiah Ng