Getting ready to review a new stage version of A Tale of Two Cities the other day set me wondering about how they were going to present it as a play – after all, it’s a big novel with a lot of scenes and some pretty big characters – mobs – crowds – and the cities themselves.

Then I wondered about the title. Was it really a tale of two cities? Paris is unquestionably a major character, but I wasn’t too sure about London. On reflection, this seems to be one of Dickens least London-y novels.

The adaptation was good, sticking closely to the plot and faithfully to feel of the novel. There were some cuts and some parts of the narrative were condensed – they dropped the scene on the Dover road and the story of Dr Manette’s release from prison is recalled during his testimony at Charles Darnay’s trial. Most obviously, the sub-plot involving “resurrection man” Jerry Cruncher disappears altogether.

… that peaceful and well-governed city

Sometimes a single line pops out of a script and encapsulates the writer’s – or in this case, the adapter’s-  viewpoint. On this occasion, it came out of Mr Lorry’s mouth when he referred to London as “that peaceful and well-governed city” – a line that is not in the original novel (I checked). So this was the adapter’s explanation of the title – the cities are not primarily physical places, but bodies politic – one peaceful and well-governed; the other consumed by blood-lust and chaos. Compare, as they say, and contrast.

But there’s a problem. This is 18th century London and, as Dickens freely admits, a far from benevolent government keeps the lower orders under control through the infamous “Bloody Code”. The excised sub plot tells of a population which lives in fear of murderous highwaymen and pick-pockets and of violent mobs that dole out their own very rough justice on the slightest pretext. Is London really the benign Dr Jekyll to the Parisian Mr Hyde or merely a paler reflection of the same manifestation? Did London have the potential to become Paris?

The review is at