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Review of Great Expectations at Richmond Theatre

Nichola McAuliffe as Miss Havisham. Photo credit Matt Austin
Nichola McAuliffe as Miss Havisham. Photo credit Matt Austin

Pip (Seán Aydon) wasn’t the first person to aspire to move from their current station in life to something more comfortable, more amenable and more pleasurable. He wasn’t the last, either: except where the intention is to cause harm, there’s nothing wrong with ambition. This stage adaptation of a Charles Dickens classic, Great Expectations, covers the salient points of the novel, and much more besides. The litmus test for me when it comes to productions like these, the latest in a long line of film, television and theatrical adaptations stretching back to the silent movie era, is whether a hypothetical member of the audience who had never had any prior knowledge of Great Expectations, beyond reading the blurb in the Richmond Theatre season brochure prior to purchasing tickets, would understand what was going on.

On balance, I conclude they would, just about. Not all scenes are dramatised, and the limitations (for want of a better word) of live staging are overcome primarily by old fashioned storytelling, in the form of direct addresses to the audience. But this ‘and then this happened, and then that happened’ format starts to get a little tiresome, and makes the scenes that are acted out seem like fragments rather than part of a coherent whole.

A raised rectangular block, or, if you will, a metal cage, is set at, I would estimate, a 30-degree angle, with sloping walkways to allow for the company to enter and exit as appropriate. Neither time nor place is made clear from what can be seen, aside from the ever-peculiar living space where Miss
Havisham (Nichola McAuliffe) confines herself. I loved all the civility of the characters, which makes the abrupt manner of Miss Havisham as well as a showdown between longstanding enemies Magwitch (Daniel Goode) and Compeyson (James Dinsmore) even more dynamic, in stark contrast to the otherwise courteous manner of both (in their own ways) the haves and the have-nots.

Overall, there’s a lot of talking heads in the show, and a lot of sitting down to discuss matters. The set looked like it was going to revolve at some point. These points together, unfortunately, became a metaphor for the show: I’m sorry to report that it was rather stagnant. It’s surprising that it feels as sluggish as it does, especially as the lack of set and scenery made for very slick and seamless scene changes – for example, the action shifts from Wemmick’s (Edward Ferrow) City workplace to Walworth home almost instantaneously.

Aydon’s Pip is very convincing throughout, from the vulnerable boy who finds it impossible to ‘play’ on the orders of Miss Havisham, to the young gentleman that he wanted to be, holding his own amongst high society. Goode’s Magwitch is palpably startling (as befits the character). James Camp’s Herbert Pocket, meanwhile, was delightful. The costumes were commensurate with the era, and in this department Miss Havisham, as could be reasonably expected, wins hands down, fitting the icy and rather commanding character like a glove. McAuliffe gives a nuanced performance, setting aside melodrama for an emphasis on influencing the conduct of her adopted daughter Estella (Isla Carter) and the young Pip.

There are opportunities to enjoy some actor-musicianship in places, though the songs included don’t, to be blunt, add much to the narrative. The cast undoubtedly work very hard – the only two single-character performers are McAuliffe’s Miss Havisham and Aydon’s Pip, leaving twenty-five named characters to be shared between seven actors. However, some further streamlining would benefit the production enormously. As it stands, it’s as though it attempts to include as many details from Dickens’ novel on stage as possible, which will please the purists, glad that everything that ‘should’ be included is there. But sometimes less is more, and the relatively sparse staging didn’t carry through to this adaptation’s narrative.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Following a terrifying encounter with an escaped convict, young Pip is given an unexpected chance to better himself by visiting the reclusive and mysterious Miss Havisham. In the decaying grandeur of her house, Pip falls in love with Estella and helped by an anonymous benefactor, he moves to the bustling city to pursue his dream of winning Estella’s heart and of becoming part of the educated elite.

Peopled by some of Dickens’ most colourful and memorable characters and painted in rich, vivid colours across a vast landscape of people and locations, this stunning new version promises a powerful and theatrical telling of Dickens’ universally loved masterpiece.

Nichola McAuliffe – Miss Havisham
Daniel Goode – Magwitch, Bentley
Séan Aydon – Phillip “Pip” Pirrip
Isla Carter – Estella Havisham, Molly
Eliza Collings – Mrs Joe, Biddy, Camilla, Judge, Counsellor,
James Dinsmore – Jaggers, Pumblechook, Orlick, Compeyson, Aged P
James Camp – Herbert Pocket, Sergeant
Edward Ferrow – Joe Gargery, Wemmick, Startop

Adaptor – Ken Bentley
Director – Sophie Boyce Couzens
Designer James – Turner
Lighting Designer – Richard Williamson
Sound Designer – Max Pappenheim
Composer – Ollie King
Choreographer – Corinne Meredith
Dramaturg – Katherine Senior
Stage Manager – David North
ASM – Sophie Duffin
Company Manager | Producer – Matthew Parish
Costume Supervisor – Holly Henshaw
Production Manager – Paul Debreczeny
Producers – Tilted Wig Productions and Malvern Theatres
Production Marketing images – Matt Austin
Marketing – Mark Slaughter
Press – Martin Shippen

12 -17 Mar Richmond Theatre


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