NORTHCOTT THEATRE – 23 JUNE
GREAT EXPECTATIONS by Charles Dickens, adapted by Ken Bentley
RUNNING TIME – 2 hours 45 minutes – 1 interval
Northcott Theatre Box Office – 01392 726363
REVIEW – CORMAC RICHARDS – 19 JUNE 2018
The cast work valiantly but the adaptation only occasionally hits the nail on the head
Any adaptation of a Charles Dickens novel provides the writer with a huge mountain to climb. There have been many attempts to condense the complex plots and the multitude of characters into an accessible and entertaining piece of theatre. The Grandfather of all of them being the David Edgar/RSC version of Nicholas Nickleby which runs nearly 8 hours! Great Expectations is a slighter novel, but still with a story of great detail and many characters. In the main Ken Bentley does a good job in this version for Tilted Wig Productions.
The cast of 8, all but 2 of whom play multiple parts, work tirelessly throughout taking us through the life, from child to adult, of the central character Pip. As the need to change from one character to another a hat is donned, a scarf added or taken away to delineate the transformation. With the costume emphasis on blacks, whites and browns – except for Estella, the only character to wear bright colours – it sometimes took a moment to compute the character alteration. A wider palate may have been useful here.
Dickens’ use of narrative is hard to ignore and the convention of the cast acting as storytellers when not playing a character was well used here, enabling the story move smoothly onwards.
A steel-framed box with raised floor, upper level and with slatted wooden doors at the back and various ladders around it, provided the static set. A ‘story box’ as the designer James Turner describes it in what is the most lovely programme I have been provided with in many years. Hidden around the set are props, pieces of costumes and instruments for making sound effects. It’s a neat job. My concerns were its positioning off centre on the Northcott stage, leaving a large area of it unused. The action felt constricted and I felt that sometimes the story needed to burst further out of the box. The steel frame also provided sighting issues which would not have affected the whole audience but certainly did this viewer.
I loved the way the inventive use of sound by the cast, the rumbles of thunder, the ticking of a clock. These worked well as did the cast members handing props and costume to the characters. Again, this helped drive the proceedings without interruption; for there were no lengthy scene changes at all.
At the back of the ‘box’ behind the doors was the hidden world belonging to Miss Havisham, tattered curtaining, lace and a decaying wedding cake, seemingly presented within the dial of a stopped clock. Effective and evocative.
As Pip, Séan Aydon effectively transformed from innocent child to arrogant adult before settling into a far more likeable character though I would have liked a little more light and shade in his delivery. James Camp as Herbert Pocket provided some splendid light relief – of which there was probably not enough in the script – his comic timing was excellent. Those who know the 1946 David Lean film version will recall the striking first entrance of Magwitch (played on screen by Finlay Currie) – Daniel Goode was able to appear through a trap door to surprise both Pip and the audience alike. He also managed to pull a lot of pathos out of the character. Eliza Collings was an effectively brutal Mrs Joe and sweet Biddy and James Dinsmore undertook an array of characters, but my favourite being Aged P – delightful. Isla Carter also had a good transformation from the spoilt girl to the wronged woman as Estella and Edward Ferrow gave us a delightful duo of characters in Joe Gargery and Wemmick; the scenes between Joe and Pip were very affecting. Nichola McAuliffe didn’t take Miss Havisham down the line of a complete lunatic, but more as the disappointed and devastated woman unable to come to terms with her past. It was a lightly nuanced and effective interpretation.
I have to mention the 9th member of the cast, Ollie King, who, as composer and musician, was ever-present, augmenting the play with music from squeezebox, violin and penny whistle. It was delightful, apt and very much a star of the production.
Director, Sophie Boyce Couzens, kept the action going well, but I did feel that some of the final scenes, the fire at Miss Havisham’s, the scene on the packet boat, the death of Magwitch and the actual end of the play were rushed and rather wasted and so the emotional climax of the play actually had little emotion.
The second half of the play is substantially used to explain the background to the story, the relationships of the characters and the denouement of the plot. This lead to some very wordy and static scenes and the script appeared to get a little bogged down and one-paced; it needed some vitality and urgency. Unfortunately, the polite applause at the end of the show was just that. It was difficult to be bowled over by this earnest and well-meaning, but slightly disappointing production.
NICHOLA McAULIFFE – MISS HAVISHAM
DANIEL GOODE – MAGWITCH, BENTLEY DRUMMLE
SÉAN AYDON – PIP
ISLA CARTER – ESTELLA, MOLLY
JAMES CAMP – HERBERT POCKET
ELIZA COLLINGS – MRS JOE, BIDDY
EDWARD FERROW – JOE GARGERY, WEMMICK
JAMES DINSMORE – PUMBLECHOOK, JAGGERS, COMPEYSON, AGED P
DIRECTOR – SOPHIE BOYCE COUZENS
DESIGNER – JAMES TURNER
LIGHTING DESIGNER – RICHARD WILLIAMSON
SOUND DESIGNER – MAX PAPPENHEIM
MUSICIAN & COMPOSER – OLLIE KING
COSTUME SUPERVISOR – HOLLY ROSE HENSHAW
PRESENTED BY TILTED WIG PRODUCTIONS & MALVERN THEATRES