thu 18/12/2014

Great Expectations, Vaudeville Theatre | Theatre reviews, news & interviews

Great Expectations, Vaudeville Theatre

Hopes are dashed and expectations thwarted in a creaking literary adaptation

Miss Havisham (Paula Wilcox) weaves her cobwebs of revenge around the brittle Estella (Grace Rowe)

There’s nothing novel about novel-adaptations on stage. We’ve seen every classic from Pride and Prejudice to Tess of the D’Urbervilles, The Woman in White (and The Woman in Black) get the full theatrical treatment, and I’m not sure any have ended up the better for it. The power of a tale is in the telling, and unmoored from the delicate narrative handling of an Austen or a Dickens things can go horribly awry. And so it is with the West End’s latest – a touring production of Dickens’ Great Expectations that has stumbled mistakenly onto The Strand and is doing its best to brazen it out.

Jo Clifford reconceives Dickens’ epic as a memory play, told among the gilded ruins of Satis House – cobwebs clinging to every episode and character as they emerge through leaking walls and from under creaking floorboards. It’s an efficient (and cost-effective) structural device that should allow for a fluid progress through the action but doesn’t, and one that gains nothing either psychologically or dramatically in the doubled figure of Pip, who appears simultaneously throughout as both child and man.

Dickens' comedy is apparently surplus to requirementsThe adult hero (Paul Nivison) haunts the action desperately in hope of a line, occasionally shocked out of constipated silence to deliver passages of forgettable scenic description or to plug narrative gaps, while his younger incarnation (Taylor Jay-Davies, pictured below) declaims effortfully in the foreground. Although the action remains stubbornly rooted in a single set, the accents from the ensemble cast roam freely across most of the British Isles – a blessed distraction at least from the hacking about of Dickens’ dialogue.

His comedy is apparently surplus to requirements as is his meticulous precision of descriptive observation and (more forgiveably) most of his characters. When you’re cutting the book down to a tidy two hours I appreciate that there isn’t time for subtleties, but Clifford’s approach to her Dickens carcass is to throw away the flesh and the fat and try and make a meal out of the melodramatic gristle and the bones of plot.

Director Graham McLaren’s take on Dickensian grotesque looks a lot like Tim Burton, and staggers in and out of tonal focus. Dickens poises his characters on the knife-edge of horror and humanity, but here they tip either too far one way or the other. Josh Elwell as Joe Gargery is rather touching in his simplicity, but loses energy in dialogue with the limp Jay-Davies. James Vaughan strays unwisely into Mad Hatter territory with Mr Wopsle but recovers for a chilling Mr Wemmick, while Grace Rowe’s Estella lacks more than she offers.

There’s interest to be had from Paula Wilcox’s too-beautiful Miss Havisham, but not quite enough derangement to balance her fey charm, and the less said about the prancing camp of Rhys Warrington’s Herbert Pocket (unaccountably confined to the mantelpiece for all his action) the better.

Robin Peoples’ set is a gorgeous gothicke fantasy of liver-spotted glass and fading gilt, and (an over-reliance on dry-ice aside) the show certainly looks the part. But it’s a lone consolation among so much confusion. “As Dickens adaptations go I think I preferred A Muppet Christmas Carol,” one departing theatre-goer observed. Too right.

Comments

This show is fantastic. Don't

This show is fantastic. Don't know what this critic wanted to see. Young pip was outstanding and on stage through the whole of the play. Jo gargery was also excellent. You won't be disappointed. Breathtakingly fantastic.

This review does not do this

This review does not do this production justice - I loved it & can only describe it as outstanding with a first class cast, excellent staging, visuals and costume design. A refreshing change from the endless lengthy television adaptations of GE, which I grew bored of years ago.

I cannot fathom why the

I cannot fathom why the reviews for this exciting and excellent adaptation have been so very grudging. It is a wonderfully staged, imaginatively directed, beautifully written work of thrilling theatricality, with performances filled with truth, pathos and humour. It thankfully avoids any sentimentality, and the clever staging and playing draws the audience in to be at the heart of this wonderful story- that is what theatre should do. I can only imagine that the blander, commercial , conservative and frankly dull fare usually on offer in the West End has blunted and reduced our critical response to the lowest common denominator.... very sad that this excellent piece of theatre isn't welcomed with gratitude and open arms.

Add comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Use to create page breaks.

More information about formatting options

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters