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Great Expectations – Richmond Theatre, London

Writer: Charles Dickens

Director: Graham McLaren

Reviewer: James Higgins


It seems apt that in the year we have celebrated the great Charles Dicken’s 200th birthday, a new adaptation of arguably his greatest book has arrived. Great Expectations was first adapted by Jo Clifford in 1988 but this time she has rewritten it again so it may travel to London – remarkably the one place it has never been! Incredibly, not once since its original publication in the 1860s has the novel been presented as a full-length play in the West End, so that is where this national tour – commencing here at Richmond Theatre – will finally set up shop.

The play opens with a sense of foreboding as we are transported to the eerie static set (Robin Peoples) that remains in situ for the duration. At first glance this is the dark, musty and claustrophobic interior of Miss Havisham’s dilapidated Satis House but on second glance it is so much more. A huge room in a mansion with a single large table, it becomes many other places through use of clever lighting (Kai Fischer), smoke and mirrors. With a little imagination on our part and some clever directing we visit the marshes of Kent, Joe’s humble forge, and various London scenes both inside and outdoors. There is also a particularly impressive use of flames, a very real and attention-grabbing special effect.

As would be expected with any stage adaptation of Great Expectations, many of the characters of the novel have more peripheral rôles here with Drummle, Wopsle, Mrs Joe and Herbert Pocket becoming almost token. This, however, seems a necessary evil and though the story is substantially thinned does allow the running time to be just 2 hours with the effect that the story flies along maintaining our attention for the whole duration. As chief varmint Magwitch, we are blessed with Chris Ellison’s great snarling take on the old dog (perhaps drawn partly from his long stint as the dastardly DCI Frank Burnside from The Bill).

We are delivered two different versions of Pip, a young one under Miss Havisham’s spell played superbly by the fresh faced Taylor Jay-Davies and the adult Pip (Paul Nivison) who narrates from around the room adding well-directed gravitas to the character. There are good performances too from Wemmick (Brian Pettifer), Jaggers (Jack Ellis) and Estella (Grace Rowe). Of particular note though, Steve North gives us a convincing Joe Gargery full of warmth and humbleness, a character with real heart and Paula Wilcox is as unrecognisable as she is excellent playing the heartbroken Miss Havisham, whose torment never leaves her.

This is an unusual and refreshing version of Great Expectations that still manages to weave Dickens’ magic on us, worth a look now before it heads towards the West End, after a 200-year-long wait!

Runs until 15th September, and touring nationally until 10th November

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  1. Absoluteley splendid – spellbinding

  2. I am totally blown away with this production.
    Everything about it is fantastic… The set and costumes are beautiful, casting is perfect and I’m off to book tickets for the Brighton show!

  3. Fantastic! Really enjoyed the play with its impressive cast, costume, setting and delivery. Well done.

  4. I really enjoyed this production. It was new and audacious. The cast, especially Paula Wilcox, are extremely good. She perfectly captured the spirit of the Dickens original. Visually too, this is a real treat. Lovely set, sumptuous costumes by Annie Gosney, and an excellent sense of period detail. The couture elements include gowns by the House of Worth and spectacular jewellery by Christopher St James. It is rare to see such wonderful costumes and jewellery together on the stage these days. The superb lighting and sound effects added greatly to the atmosphere.

  5. Thoroughly enjoyed this – spellbinding theatre, highly recommended!

  6. Philip Brisebois

    FIVE stars (sorry pressed 4 star button in error!) for this wonderful adaptation of Dicken’s Masterpiece that went beyond my ‘Expectations’ and was truly ‘Great’!
    VIsually breathtaking with ingenious set, lighting and costume designs …
    Some staged ‘Classics’ can be slow … but not this one. It sped through at a ‘fiery’ (excuse the pun) pace with riveting effect and satisfaction for us all.
    The Cast (too many for individual plaudits) were excellent … ‘old’ favourites from stage & screen combining with some excellent youthful new talent.

  7. Thoroughly enjoyed my first Dickens experience. Great set, terrific cast and a great night out.

  8. A magnificent epic production which told the story so beautifully. It looked fantastic and the cast were wonderful especially Paul Nivison and Paula Wilcox. Do get along to see this.

  9. Captivating cast and spellbinding story telling of this Dickinson classic. Beautiful set and costumes all combined to make it an awesome show!

  10. What a wonderful production this is. It’s a complete Dickens experience, full of atmosphere and beautifully realised characters. The set is stunning, the acting uniformly excellent and the costumes fabulous. The script has been cleverly paired down to allow for the story to remain complete and full of drama. It will be a very classy and welcome addition to the West End when it arrives in the Spring. Congratulates to all involved.

  11. Great production enhanced by a great cast. Beautiful set and wonderful costumes.

    If you don’t see anything else this year see this!

    5 stars all round.

  12. An excellent production, superb acting and cast. Looking forward to seeing it again in the West End

  13. Great use of an interesting set/lighting, good pace throughout, great range of characters/performances – overall an impressive, slick production.

  14. Directed by Graham McLaren, from the National Theatre of Scotland, and adapted for stage by Scots playwright Jo Clifford, with a cast of well-recognisable TV names such as Jack Ellis, Chris Ellison and Paula Wilcox, including a host of talent trained at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (formerly RSAMD), what’s not to like about this authentic and bold reworking of one of Dickens’ best-loved novels highlighting his bicentennial year.

    The cast, creative and executive crews deliver something special. Even the set is stunning to view, with smart use of lighting that allows scenes to shift into different dimensions and locations with ease.

    A well produced, directed and performed outcome, full of class acting, provided a flowing mood throughout. Particular credit to Paul Nivison’s vintage Pip narrator role which required him to remain on stage throughout the performance enabling the audience to flow timelessly between his memories.

  15. The whole production captivated us and the staging was very cleverly done. The cast injected great feeling and made the production come alive – the performance flew by. We would thoroughly recommend it.

  16. Lucinda Hawksley

    I saw this in Richmond and loved it, the cast are brilliant and the costumes and set are wonderfully gothic and spellbinding. I wasn’t sure how it would be possible to turn such a long novel into a stage play, but it was done really well. Thoroughly recommended.

  17. Excellent production, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Incredible set and captivating performances from the cast. Highly recommend going to see if you are a fan of this wonderful Dickens classic.

  18. Fabulous show! Great cast and a great production

    Well done to all really enjoyed this and will be recommending to lots of friends and family

  19. Absolutely loved it! The adaptation from book to stage was excellent, it worked so well and I loved the ‘Tim Burton – esque’ take on this Dickens classic. The cast were fantastic! Estella was absolutely captivating and poignant, Pip was excellently played (the relationship between Pip and Estella, as both children and adults, was so moving), Miss Havisham sinister, Mrs Joe funny and Jaggers dynamic. The costumes were fabulous and the set added to the dark and gothic feel of the production.

  20. A fast-paced, slick and engaging production that keeps the audience’s attention from the very first moment to the very last. Paula Wilcox is truly brilliant in the role of Miss Havisham, simultaneously pitiful and pitiless. The pace never drops, and the ensemble help bring challenging scenes (that of Magwitch’s demise, for example) to life through simple but beautifully choreographed movement sequences. Pip has our sympathy as both boy and man, and Grace Rowe gives a truly stunning performance as Estella.

  21. The whole production was fantastic! I felt throughout most of the play that I was on stage with the cast so good the acting was, bringing you back to the Dickensian era. A must see play!

  22. Great production of Great Expectations! Great cast, set, costumes and adaptation kept you captivated throughout. Definitely worth seeing during it’s current tour and hope to see it again on the West End next year.

  23. I would love to have seen this production of Great Expectations but alas I live in Denmark and have allready used quite a lot of money on the magnificent Portsmouth Conference dealing with “The Impact of Dickens”. However If this production comes to Copenhagen I’m your man!