Review: Great Expectations

March 20, 2018 by Ray Morgan

Theatre can interpret the classics in many ways, and I was excited to see how a new adaptation of Great Expectations by Tilted Wig Productions would take a familiar story and bring us something new.

The story of young Pip's journey from being a blacksmith's apprentice to a gentleman with the help of the jilted Miss Havisham and rough-and-ready Magwitch is truly an epic, and the company did well to condense such a tome, although this production isn't a short one by any stretch! Sean Aydon's Pip begins boyish, sprightly and innocent, and upon meeting Miss Havisham and her intriguing yet cold adopted daughter Estella, sees a world of possibility out of his grasp. Only when a mysterious benefactor affords him the life of a gentleman can he pursue the life he's always wanted - and Pip moves from boy to wealthy man dropping his voice an octave, and his country accent, seamlessly.

The stage setting had a contemporary feel, with industrial rigging and ladders for the actors to scale, which at times I felt distracted from the drama, and didn't attempt to give a sense of foggy marsh or busy London. But I liked the small touches: the accordion player atop the set, accompanying each scene for example. The set swung open from the industrial blacksmiths to Miss Havisham's crumbling mansion with drapes of lace cloth, her decaying wedding cake, and her dress at times making her seem intertwined with the set, looming out of the drapes.

And speaking of Miss Havisham, Nichola McAuliffe plays her eerily, frighteningly, less sad jilted bride and more manipulative matriarch who attempts to live through Pip and Estella. It's a powerful performance, unsettling, and in a climactic fire scene where Miss Havisham crumbles and roars, the simple set came alive via lighting and smoke machines, and worked brilliantly.

At other times, I felt the bare-bones set lacked magic and atmosphere - despite the cast's best efforts to provide this with narration, and the use of lanterns and simple sound effects during others' scenes. The cast is small, and at times I felt a little confused as to who was playing who, and wondered if more distinction between characters could have helped this.

Daniel Goode, who played Magwitch, was a personal standout for me, playing the roughshod, complex character with vigour, reminding me of Daniel Mays. His speech while toasting his feet on an imaginary fire had me hooked, and I found myself mesmerised by his story.

This is a faithful adaptation of a well-known story, but its contemporary stage setting and minimal atmosphere may be challenging to the traditionalists.

Great Expectations is on at The Palace Theatre until 24th March. To buy your tickets please click here