BWW Review: GREAT EXPECTATIONS, Richmond Theatre

BWW Review: GREAT EXPECTATIONS, Richmond Theatre

BWW Review: GREAT EXPECTATIONS, Richmond TheatreFollowing a chance encounter with an escaped convict, orphan Pip is given an unexpected opportunity to visit the reclusive Miss Havisham. In the decay and faded grandeur of her house, Pip falls in love with her adopted daughter Estella and helped by an anonymous benefactor, he moves to London to attempt to become a gentleman and win the hard heart of Estella.

After successful tours of Our Man In Havana and Travels With My Aunt, Tilted Wig productions has turned its attention to Dickens, with a very faithful and atmospheric adaptation of Great Expectations.

The challenge for any adaptation of such a long and detailed book is judicious editing. At nearly three hours, the play feels like an endurance test at points and could be cut down further without compromising the story. The cast take it in turns to narrate parts to the audience, which gives glimpses of Dickens' mastery of language, but the action is sometimes impeded by the conversation.

With a very able cast of only eight, Séan Aydon transitions well from Pip the boy to the man. The relationship between him and gentle Joe Gargery, played convincingly by Edward Ferrow, is touching and tender.

Olivier award winner Nichola McAuliffe's ghostly Miss Havisham looks almost transparently pale in her faded and moth-eaten wedding gown. McAuliffe resists any temptation to veer towards melodrama, opting to play the character in a quietly haunting and unnerving manner. It is a compelling performance that is as unsettling as it is convincing.

Estelle is played by Isla Carter, who is suitably aloof and brittle in her treatment of poor Pip. Daniel Goode shows a good range of emotion as convict Magwitch and Eliza Collings is as brutal as Mrs Joe as she is gentle as Biddy, although a headscarf is not enough to distinguish between the two characters and could be initially confusing for those unfamiliar with the story.

Such a huge amount of the story relies on the mastery of Dickens' prose to convey the characters, but almost more importantly, the atmosphere. His descriptions mean that you can almost smell the claggy dampness of the Kent marshes, the crackling fire of Joe's forge and the hustle and bustle of London life. James Turner's design is a little too minimal to feel fully transported. Action is based around a square, angled space to the left of the stage that the cast climb in and around. Director Sophie Boyce Couzens focuses all action within and in front of this space, which leaves a lot of empty, dark space on the rest of the stage. Miss Havisham's house is revealed behind the back doors of the square space, but lacks much detail apart from streaming white fabric.

Richard Williamson's lighting and Max Pappenheim's sound design is much more successful with judicious use of flickering lights for the forge fire, watery lamp light and atmospheric sound effects played by the cast on stage. The scene where Miss Havisham sets herself on fire is done very well with clever use of smoke and light effects.

As with much of his writing, the themes that Dickens tackles are as sharp and current today as they were when they were written in 1860. The divide between rich and poor, snobbery and justice are all laid bare and Pip's lesson that love, loyalty, and conscience are more important than class, social advancement and money is made starkly obvious.

For fans of Dickens' incredible story, it is a faithful and fulfilling representation, but its length may be challenging for some.

Great Expectations is at Richmond Theatre until 17 March, then touring

Photo Credit: Lisa Roberts Photography

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From This Author Aliya Al-Hassan

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