Lost Dog: A Tale of Two Cities review – best of times | Stage
VSentertainer Ben Duke and his company Lost Dog are on a winning streak. After unconventional takes on Paradise Lost and Romeo and Juliet, they bring us a Dickens-inspired story that’s complex yet relevant, funny and full of feeling.
As in these earlier works, Duke considers a classic text – and the human emotions it contains – by manufacturing an entirely new point of view. For A Tale of Two Cities, we arrive well after the action of the last page. Our guide is little Lucie Manette (Nina-Morgane Madelaine), who escaped from Paris in the midst of the French Revolution with her mother, also Lucie, and her father Charles Darnay, and has many questions about why. Now grown up, Lucie is making a documentary about her family, revealing secrets that her parents have been keeping for years. While learning about history in retrospect, themes come to the surface: about our responsibility for the actions of our ancestors and whether we can escape our past.
In a talkative intro, as tight as the dense text of Dickens, Lucie suggests that we draw a family tree on our programs to keep track of the characters. A basic outline of the plot beforehand is probably helpful, but you’re quickly drawn into its investigation by the script’s dry asides, slight marital squabbles, and aloud laughter.
Lucie’s video camera is not an accessory but an instrument in the staging. As she interviews her parents, the live feed is projected onto the roof of a half-ruined house on stage – the dance between the bodies in front of us and the screen allows for sudden shifts in focus or slips in the memory. Duke has mastered a way of working that crosses shapes seamlessly. It is refined theatre, without being an actor; Duke only uses dance (and music) when necessary, to invigorate the storytelling or a mental state – when Madame Defarge (Temitope Ajose-Cutting) discovers that her sister has been raped, she collapses and then the sweetness escapes from its body until it is an empty device.
It’s rare to see all of these elements used so skillfully, not gratuitously, with a pacing that draws the viewer in, even if you already know the facts before Lucie. It is a work that deserves to be seen widely, not just by dance audiences or Dickensian fans.