by Charles Dickens adapted by Neil Bartlett.
Theatre By The Lake Lakeside CA12 5DJ In rep to 10 November 2012.
Runs 2hr 40min One interval.
TICKETS: 017687 74411.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 29 August.
Restraint is the key to success with an extravagantly-told tale.
What a temptation: Charles Dickens born 200 years ago, and his novels famously theatrical in style and characters. No need for the adapter to cope with inward flows of thought or feeling; all is shown externally.
That’s the problem – ‘all is shown’. Dickens writes straight to readers’ imaginations, complete in detail, structure and impact. Like a Browning dramatic monologue, his novels seem ideal for staging, but all the work’s already done. There’s no need for intermediary actors, set or lighting.
There have been successful adaptations, but few. They need an overall strategy that’s intrinsically theatrical. And time. This may be short for a Dickens novel but it’s several times longer than a full-length playscript.
This needs remembering whenever theatres reach for the scale and scope a novel can provide – not to mention a well-known title. I went with anything but great expectations.
And was pleasantly surprised. Adapter Neil Bartlett, is a skilled director. So, as Keswick theatregoers know, is Theatre By The Lake’s Artistic Director Ian Forrest.
The show confirms the quality of this year’s company, each contributing to the ensemble’s greater good. Nothing can prevent compression limiting the impact, and Dickens’ energy often benefits from containment in the playing. It’s this which makes Chris Hannon’s good-natured Joe impressive: there’s no seeking sympathy, just simply expressed modest good-nature.
A detail strikes home – the convict Magwitch holding his chains to prevent their jangling giving him away as he creeps up on young Pip – while a major event like the conflagration of Satis House is reduced to theatrical shorthand in smoke and flame-effects.
It’s never as scary as the novel. But if George Banks’ opening narration sinks the heart, his deft development of Pip’s less pleasant side works best when most restrained. The Satis House women are less successful, Miss Havisham’s full-blooded emotion seems excessive, Estella awkwardly arch rather than mysteriously evasive.
But they are the most unnatural characters in an author whose spirit naturally bends towards generosity. Joannah Tincey quietly shows this, following the well-sketched selfishness of Mrs Joe with Biddy’s warmth and fine comic pointing of the clerk Wemmick
Pip: George Banks.
Magwitch/Sergeant: James Duke.
Herbert Pocket/Compeyson/Wopsle/Musician: Nicholas Goode.
Joe Gargery/Jaggers: Chris Hannon.
Pumblechook/Bentley Drummle/Sarah Pocket: Adrian Metcalfe.
Estella: Zöe Mills.
Miss Havisham: Maggie Tagney.
Mrs Joe Gargery/Biddy/Wemmick/Musician: Joannah Tincey.
Director: Ian Forrest.
Designer/Costume: Martin Johns.
Lighting: Nick Beadle.
Sound: Matt Hall.
Composer/Musical Director: Richard Atkinson.
Video: Andrew J Lindsay.
Movement: Ella Vale.
Dialect coach: Charmian Hoare.
Fight director: Peter Maqueen.