by Charles Dickens adapted by Tanika Gupta.
Tour to 7 May 2011.
Runs 2hr 50min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 22 February.
Fascination in seeing ourselves as others see us.
This second (and by far the better) of Tanika Gupta’s adaptations of British classics for Watford Palace (here in a coproduction with English Touring Theatre) retains its original’s date, 1861, but places the action in British Empire India. Indian villagers keep English names – Joe switches from blacksmith to cobbler but remains a Gargery – while acquiring unDickensian north English accents.
Miss Havisham’s an elderly English lady living in government grounds, but her adopted Estella is African – as is Magwitch, the convict Pip helps at the start, allowing a three-way view of racial attitudes.
Nikolai Foster’s production, its scenes propelled from one to another by Nicki Wells’ often-pounding music, provides a firm pace from the outset. The open crematorium grounds (replacing Dickens’ marshes) contrast the restricted area of the cobbler’s home, indicated by a torn curtain.
Gupta makes a contrast by placing the village scenes before the interval, moving to Calcutta afterwards, Foster establishing the shift in a street-scene of passers-by and traders. Plus a speaker, who promotes Indian cultural traditions against Western Imperial ones – of which Dickens was becoming a part.
His call for revolution through the word might be self-description by the playwright. It provides a fascinating perspective, but tends to be presented in over-obvious exposition.
So the imperturbable lawyer Jaggers (member of the English Raj in Russell Dixon’s suavely intimidating performance) explains Pip is being educated into an Indian elite to govern the country on behalf of England. The idea’s important to the adaptation. But it seems unconvincing Jaggers would explain it in such four-square terms.
The adaptation becomes stretched in later scenes, but these on the whole aren’t the most memorable in Dickens. And, despite difficulties in shoe-horning a longish novel into 150 minutes playing time, the fascinating new angle has a strong cast, especially Garry Cooper as the ever-optimistic Herbert Pocket, friend to Pip, plus Jude Akuwudike’s Magwitch.
And centrally, Tariq Jordan, whose Pip grows from innocent child to rich young man, becoming increasingly confident in clothes, bearing and speech, until he finally learns he has to lose everything before gaining anything of lasting value.
Abel Magwitch: Jude Akuwudike.
Compeyson: Rob Compton.
Herbert Pocket: Giles Cooper.
Jaggers: Russell Dixon.
Miss Haversham: Lynn Farleigh.
Mrs Gargery/Molly: Pooja Ghai.
Pumblechook/Speaker: Shiv Grewal.
Estella: Simone James.
Joe Gargery: Tony Jayawardena.
Pip: Tariq Jordan.
Wemmick: Darren Kuppan.
Biddy: Kiran Landa.
Director: Nikolai Foster.
Designer: Colin Richmond.
Lighting: Lee Curran.
Sound: Sebastian Frost.
Composer: Nicki Wells.
Musical Adviser: Nitin Sawney.
Choreographer/Movement: Zoobin Surty.
Movement: Cressida Carré.
Voice coach: Tim Charrington.
Fight director: Kate Waters.
Associate director: Nicola Samer.