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Great Expectations – Darlington Civic Theatre

Writer: Charles Dickens

Adapter:Jo Clifford

Music: Simon Slater

Director: Graham McLaren

Reviewer: Anna Ambelez

[rating:4]

A powerful, dark, disturbingly dominating set by Robin Peoples, confronts the audience on entering the auditorium. This is the room set for the wedding reception Miss Havisham (Paula Wilcox) never had, shrouded in years of cobwebs with the wedding cake left untouched as its centre piece. An older Pip (Paul Nivison) revisits the scene and begins to relate the story of his life and its harsh beginnings; he remains on stage throughout the show, watching events and sometimes acting as narrator.

While living with the caring Mr Joe, tenderly and convincingly played by Steve North, and his wife Mrs Joe (Isabelle Joss) he is summonsed to the dilapidated Satis House by Miss Havisham. Taylor Jay-Davies sensitively takes on the rôle of the young Pip, who is drawn by Estella (Grace Rowe) and his adventure unfolds.

The story is presented in various extracts, some straight and others strangely macabre, with grotesque caricatures. The exchanges with the powerfully played Magwitch (Chris Ellison) and Camilla (Katy Allen) give reality, while some very amusing scenes with Wopsle (James Vaughan) and Mrs Joe were reminiscent of Punch and Judy. Brian Pettifer excellent as Wemmick, seems under used, while Jaggers (Jack Ellis) dominated when on stage.

The great use of make-up (Ian Bartholomew) and wigs (Lorraine McInerney) add a surreal quality. While the whole play takes place on the one set, brilliant lighting (Kai Fischer) and evocative sound (Matt Mckenzie) with an original score by Simon Slater combine to transport you to other locations. The use of well-choreographed movement by Marcello Magni is particularly effective to set certain moods, incorporating the use of umbrellas to create the sea, as one example. Masks (Gavin Glover and Totzi Godinez De Dios) greatly add to the Gothic feel of the production, where Johnny Depp’s Sweeny Todd would not be out of place. Add to this the use of mirrors, an effective fire effect and you have a very visually active show.

Director, Graham McLaren leads a big production, having over thirty in the cast and creative team alone with the production team on top; their combined efforts have created a theatrical extravaganza. The fantastic visual and audio effects envelop and devour the stage, at times even overpowering the story and its characters.

Jo Clifford, a well-respected Scottish playwright who first adapted the novel nearly twenty five years ago, recently re-wrote it for the London stage, where it had never been. Its present national tour will return to the West End later this year.

Great Expectations is a classic example of Dickens great storytelling with mystery and adventure, in which he excels, while also making a comment on the social class system. He weaves an intricate tapestry of the desperate, complex and terrible turns life can take, which still apply to the modern age.

What to expect of arguably Dickens greatest novel performed on stage, presents many possibilities. It is little wonder the story has never been fully staged till now. Originally published in instalments, as all Dickens novels were, it is a mammoth task to show the entire story, its many characters, plots, sub-plots and themes in a two hour evening performance, some of these have to go.

Beckman Unicorn, the producers, believe in an exciting, thrilling, dynamic high level of production, which this show delivers, maybe at some cost to the story line. However it is still a very atmospheric, stylistically stunning show and one that could not have been achieved in the 19th Century. It fully embraces the theatricality of the stage. Dickens became increasingly disappointed with poor adaptations of his work, but if he is able to see this production, he will have no worries, a fitting tribute for his 200th birthday.

Runs till 20th October 2012

 

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