By Charles Dickens. Adapted by Lydia Vie.
The Playground Theatre, Latimer Road, London W10 6RQ to 29 December 2019.
Nightly at 7.30pm. Mat 18, 21 & 28 December 2.30pm.
Runs 2 hr. One interval.
TUICKETS: 020 8960 0110.
Review: William Russell 16 December.
The unqualified success of this ambitious production of Great Expectations is the set designed by Eirini Kariori which is imaginative, gorgeous to look at and works so that the sprawling events of the story can take place within what are essentially the confines of Miss Havisham’s time capsule house. The playing is good, Anastasia Revi directs with style and the adaptation by Lydia Vie manages to tell the story well enough although the last part of act two seems to be a lot of people telling what has happened as things are unravelled rather than anything being performed. Vie also opts for a somewhat enigmatic ending and the most famous line from the book – “I saw no shadow of another parting from here” uttered by Pip, the orphan with expectations, is not used.
Dickens had problems with the ending. Originally he made clear that Pip and Estella, the girl reared by Miss Havisham to break men’s hearts, remained apart and she married her second husband. He changed it to the enigmatic ending we know now from the book, but when David Lean made the best film version of the tale, arguably the best dramatic version, he went even further. When Pip turns up to find Estella who has assumed Miss Havisham’s role in the crumbling mansion he rips open the curtains of the ballroom which held the bridal feast and the light flows in arousing her from the state into which she has fallen and they rush off into the real world. For me Lean got it right. But the ending has been the subject of much literary debate and you pays your money and makes your choice.
The plot tells how Pip, a rough little boy living in the marshes with Joe Gargery finds an escaped convict, Magwitch, and helps him with some food and a file to get out of his chains. Pip has been selected by Miss Havisham, a recluse who, abandoned on her wedding day, has stopped the world, lives in a mansion still in her wedding dress, and is rearing a beautiful orphan girl, Estella, to break men’s hearts – one of which will belong to Pip. In due course he comes into his expectations, goes to London, prospers, loves Estella, gets nowhere, become a pompous prig, discovers his humanity, after he discovers who his benefactor was, and still gets nowhere with Estella. Miss Havisham repents, but too late and when she knocks over a candle it sets light to her wedding dress and she dies in spite of Pip’s efforts to save her. The widowed Estella goes back to Satis House, the Havisham home, and seems set on turning herself into a replacement figure and still rejects Pip with whom she has flirted over the years.
It is a much loved story and this production is undeniably handsome, skilfully done and is backed by a fascinating and apt sound track of music and sound. Helen Bang is a magnificent Havisham, a kind decayed china doll one might find perched on a wedding cake, imperious and still, despite the ravages of not taking care of herself, clearly once a beautiful woman. Samuel Lawrence manages the transition from the boy Pip to the man effectively and Denise Moreno is a gorgeous ice maiden as Estella. They are not all that well matched physically, however, as she is ever so slightly taller than he is – removing those shoes with heels would help. It is a pity because on gets very conscious of this, especially when he is wearing one of the stove pipe hats of the period which enhances his height. For the rest Shaun Amos is a splendidly camp and funny Herbert Pocket, the young man who becomes Pip’s friend, David Furlong is heartfelt Jaggers, the man with the heart of gold who continually forgives Pip for his sins of pride, and Peter Rae is nicely sinister Magwitch. The problem really is that Dickens’ plot, while the revelations as to who is related to who and where the money can from can be revealed on the page, does resist, In spite of being structured in four clear parts, being turned into a truly effective two act play. That said, however, this is a daring venture which provides a splendid seasonal night out and, for all my reservations deserves its four stars. The set is really out of this world.
Miss Havisham: Helen Bang.
Pip: Samuel Lawrence.
Estella: Denise Moreno.
Jaggers/Watchmaker: David Furlong.
Magwitch: Peter Rae.
Joe Gargery: Matthew Wade.
Mrs Joe/Molly: FannyDulin.
Herbert Pocket/Compeyson: Shaun Amos.
Director: Anastasia Revi.
Set Design: Eirini Kariori.
Costume Design: Erini Kariori & Viven Wilson.
Lighting Design: Chuma Emembolu.
Lighting & Sound Operator: Simon Beyer.
Production Photographs: Panayis Chrisovergis.