Saturday, 16 February 2013

Great Expectations - review

Written by: Peeny (@AdamPeeny)

Where's Peen been?
Vaudeville Theatre, London
Was Peen keen?

It’s not quite white-knuckle, but a surprisingly short and scary ride. This production of the great classic has done away with every ounce of flesh that Dickens lovingly first scribed it with, and we’re left admiring the beauty but wanting so much more: it’s best not to approach with any great expectations. It’s a quietly confident touring production that has pulled up in town for a little while, doing a worthy job of feeding the fans of Charles.

Graham McLaren has conceived and directed this version where Pip (Paul Nivison) has the events of his life to date played out to him by Young Pip (Taylor Jay-Davies) displaying everything he had, and everything he lost hold of. It’s a memory game with the middle-aged Pip looking on, but the lack of acknowledgement and vast amount of stillness on his part oftentimes makes us forget, and so it feels like a simple replay of his time just for the sake of doing so. We begin with the middle-aged Pip entering the old, grotesque Satis House alongside Estella (the excellent Grace Rowe) before they embark upon this tale of “opening closed doors”.
            Paula Wilcox plays host as Miss Havisham wonderfully. Satis House is strewn with an array of cobwebs and displays a rotting wedding cake as a signature of the desolate past. The ensemble appears (mostly) by surprise from underneath the table, or emerges from within the walls in a ghostly manner: suitably so, as Satis House is creepy and the production as a whole is sufficiently dark. There’s playfulness to it, too, with some characters having bright white faces and furniture being used as raised staging. It’s almost as if Pip’s life is being retold as a ghost story and at times, you’d be forgiven for questioning whether all of these people were alive or not.

There isn’t really a weak link within the cast and ensemble, and in particular Rowe is a convincing, biting Estella, on par with Wilcox who shines brightly as the troubled Miss Havisham. Moments with these as mother and daughter are sublime, unforgettable theatrical experiences that we should be delighted to witness. Jay-Davies carries the whole thing well before disappearing appropriately, and Jack Ellis is a precise, perfectly humorous Jaggers.

It’s something of beauty by way of design; Robin Peoples' set is one for him to boast of to no end. The production feels cold, it feels dark but mostly, it feels old; the theatrical style is probably most suited to that of Dickens’ era and Jo Clifford has adapted this classic to make it arrestingly atmospheric with paramount success. Lest we forget that it comes with the aid of the original score by Simon Slater. But to what end? No controversial or significantly unique changes have been made so this doesn’t feel like an overtly new play in production, more so reduced because this time, it comes with the sacrifice of a meatier story, which isn’t always the best alternative. This is a landmark in the history of the West End as the first ever staged adaptation of a Dickens novel so naturally, we would have hoped for something a little more momentous. 

This production runs until 1 June 2013. 

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Adam Jay said...

Haha, very wittily written Peen!
Part of me really wants to see the production merely for its design and choices for the novel, however sad to see it has lost sustenance in the process.

First ever staged Dickens novel? Learn something new every day :)

Adam Penny said...

Thanks :) do see it, if you can! It's great to watch, and looks stunning.