Review Roundup: West End's GREAT EXPECTATIONS - All the Reviews!
Libby Purves of the Times says: What is so admirable about Jo Clifford's version, after years of workshops, is that it decisively shrugs off the many screen adaptations to make something that is pure theatre. Without timidity or hesitation, under Graham McLaren's inventive, physical, impressionistic direction, its two sharp one-hour acts honour both the playful demands of Living Theatre and the themes of the book...The bones of the story are all there. So is Dickens's rage at the cruelty of the judicial system and the shallow viciousness of class. The action is all in retrospect, with a quiet greying Pip watching his past enacted by spirited grotesques under a wash of blue or red light; it is hard to be emotionally engaged, except by Josh Elwell's affecting Joe Gargery. The child, like any child, is a puzzled onlooker amid gigantic caricatures: absurd Wopsle, violent Mrs Joe, sharp Estella (Grace Rowe)... The heart is there and the culmination thrilling: fire and fog, grief and anger and regret. And no truck with that soupy, artificial happy ending Edward Bulwer-Lytton made Dickens stick on.
Henry Hitchings of the Evening Standard writes: The appeal of Dickens's story isn't completely lost in Graham McLaren's production. There will always be something poignant in the transformation of Pip (a role shared by Taylor Jay-Davies and Paul Nivison) from a humble blacksmith's apprentice to an urbane gent. Yet we're never deeply invested in his journey, and the darker effects of his changed circumstances are too briefly explored.
The Londonist writes: The play is set in Miss Havisham's cobwebbed dining room for its entirety; understandable, as set-changes would be cacophonic otherwise, but this makes it very hard to follow if you aren't familiar with the book. While those who are can imagine between the lines, those who aren't are left bewildered. Indeed, each story is rushed from one to the other, so that wonderful moments that are memorable in the novel (such as Pip's encounter with Magwitch in the graveyard) are turned into one-minute moments of nothing. The production has a very rushed feel and was slightly incoherent; none of the scenes or character relations were developed, rather, the audience was just supposed to assume that Pip had fallen in love with Estella and that Joe and Pip were "ever the best of friends".
The Express says: As a concept it works, allowing the action to unfold quickly without the need for scene changes. And it's certainly arrestingly atmospheric, with a mood of almost gothic horror. All the characters, including Wilcox's bitter Miss Havisham, are played with melodramatic gusto but at times the whole thing feels more Dickens than Dickens. The already eccentric characters have become more exaggerated and with the plot stripped back and many roles sacrificed we're presented with a kind of dumbed down Dickens where the novel's themes are spelled out rather too simplistically.