BWW Review: GREAT EXPECTATIONS, Southwark Playhouse
Opening the 2019 National Youth Theatre REP season is Neil Bartlett's adaptation of Great Expectations. With director Mumba Dodwell at the helm, this new take on the novel uses ensemble storytelling to great effect.
The story of a chance meeting with a convict, a decaying house full of secrets and an orphan's life transformed by an anonymous benefactor is a timeless tale. The lively and bustling arrival of the cast, who fill the stage and assess the audience, immediately establishes the world we are in.
Composer and sound designer Tom Gimson provides a rich addition to proceedings, again contributing to the world of the play and capturing its changing moods. Lighting designer Clare O'Donoghue also succeeds in establishing a gloomy, Gothic atmosphere.
The staging is traverse with elevated platforms on either end. This catwalk-style set with the audience facing one other allows for an intimate setting whilst creating a sense that we are judging the characters, as they judge one another.
This set-up also challenges the actors to ensure they are catering to both sides of the audience, in which they succeed admirably with strong use of the space. At times they step into or emerge out of the audience, again drawing us into the action.
Dodwell employs cross-casting, with Abel Magwitch being played by Jemima Mayala - who clearly relishes the menacing demeanour of her character in their early scenes on the marshes.
There is also welcome ethnic diversity here, which injects a more contemporary feel. The themes of the story are timeless and universal, so this is a justifiable artistic decision that breathes new life into the work.
Joseph Payne as protagonist Pip delivers an intelligent, refined and multi-layered performance. With his use of facial expressions, and in particular his eyes, he manages to convey fear and vulnerability incredibly well.
His body language, vocal inflections and the way he carries himself changes as the character becomes accustomed to his affluent lifestyle. It's an engrossing performance with the actor showcasing an array of impressive skills. His use of direct address again makes us feel a part of the established world.
Payne is well supported by the entire cast. Whilst members of the ensemble play various roles, each of their characters is distinguishable. With choral speaking and tableaus, they are very much in sync with one another, working cohesively to deliver a slick and refined production under Rachael Nanyonjo's movement direction as well as fight director Yarit Dor.
Tiwalade Ibirogba-Olulode blends fragility with formidability as the eccentric Miss Havisham. Her entrance is haunting, and she successfully depicts the various facets of her complex character.
Alice Franziska captures Estella as a bullying child really effectively before demonstrating the changes in her character once an adult. Raj Singh as Herbert Pocket has strong on stage chemistry with Payne, and offers an intricately detailed performance.
Jordan Ford Silver as Joe Gargery, Guy Clark as Mr Jaggers, Jadie Rose Hobson as Mrs Joe, and Jamie Foulkes as Mr Pumblechook all deliver standout performances. The cast as a whole, however, simply work well together, clearly investing their all into the production.
It's a joy to see young talent of this calibre tread the boards. The show plays in rep with Frankenstein at Southwark Playhouse.
Photo credit: Helen Murray