One of Dickens’ latter works, his thirteenth novel, “Great Expectations” lends itself to a dramatic stage presentation. An atmospheric opening triggers a chain of events that will bring a young man riches, break his troubled heart, and lead him deep into a mire of deception and discovery. “Great Expectations” is a story about transformation, loss, forgiveness and home coming. Neil Bartlett’s stage adaptation is bold, strong and imaginative, the perfect partner to Dickens. Torches illuminate the stage as Pip seeks answers in the darkness, hidden behind concealed doors.
Barney George’s set is stunning, the lighting by Tim Skelly haunting and ethereal. Geoffrey Breton as Pip is enthralling. His unrequited love for Estella, beautifully realised by Kate Spencer, is particularly poignant, the consequences severe. But it is Polly Lister’s Miss Haversham who steals the show wrenching emotion, character and nuance out of every line in one of the most compelling interpretations of the role I have ever seen. She prowls, spider like on sticks, her frame seemingly swathed in decaying layers of web, bitter and acerbic. Robert Beck oozes menace as Magwitch, Jack Quarton has lots of fun as lawyer Mr Jaggers, one of my favourite Dickensian creations.
As in “David Copperfield”, there is a first person narrative. The story is a bildungsroman which twists and turns into a dramatic finale, drenched in tension, the nine actors assuming multiple roles. Director Sarah Brigham wrenches the maximum out of an imposing set which is strong on impact, but unfussy and uncluttered in use, allowing the characters to shine. Her imaginative use of chairs is once again evident ( her parents must have forever been putting them back in place at home when she was a child!) be they gravestones or boats . Inset ponds are a particular feature of this production doubling both as marshes in Kent and the Thames in London.
Dickens aficionados will be satisfied with the faithful and authentic presentation of the tale, newcomers will find it instantly accessible, all cannot fail but be impressed by the consistently strong acting by all the cast and the coherence of vision displayed by Sarah Brigham’s staging.” Great Expectations” runs until Saturday 21st October.