Saturday, 6 December 2008

Great Expectations - Library Theatre, Manchester

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Adapted by Neil Bartlett
Director: Roger Haines
Music: Richard Taylor

Reviewer: Gemma Longfellow

As a dramatisation of a classic Dicken’s novel, I had high hopes to be impressed by the play, despite having never had the pleasure of reading the book and I was not disappointed. The script and acting were very engaging, and the intimacy and closeness of the theatre provided a perfect setting for this play.

The plot follows the story of orphan Pip, was has been brought up his sister and her husband, a blacksmith. A rags to riches tale, Pip has an ordeal with an escaped convict as a child, encounters a rich, eccentric, dowager and her ward Estella to whom he forms an attachment, and meets a Lawyer from London, all of which change the course of his life. We see Pip’s rise to become a gentleman in London and share his trials of unrequited love, debt and the discovery of secrets.

Dickens’ story is quite dreary in parts, but Bartlett has introduced a good amount humour into the dialogue and action, so as to keep spirits high in the audience and appeal to the whole family. There is something for all generations in the show, however, it may be difficult for younger children to enjoy the performance without first knowing the plot. The more frightening parts of the play are made less scary for children without loosing impact, by actors stepping out of the action to narrate the events.

Pip is played beautifully by Leon Williams, the character is completely believable and loveable from his first monologue. Williams executes Pip’s direct addresses to the audience with an honesty and likeability that draws you further into the story. Estella is portrayed well by Claire Redcliffe – we sufficiently disliked but understand her situation. The Company are excellent at seamlessly flowing scene and character changes from one to the next. Character changes are unapologetically made mid-stage, and are very effective.

The design by Michael Pavelka and the direction (Roger Haines) of the play are outstanding. With the limitations of rather a small stage at the Library Theatre, the set has been cleverly designed to adapt and change as the narrative requires. It is based around a series of movable doors and a limited number of props that imply a setting rather than spell it out, which provokes the audience to imagine all that may be missing. Using my imagination in this way was an enjoyable experience, one that can be all too easily missed out of twenty-first century life.

Despite a brief technical fault at the beginning, the audiovisual elements of the production were fantastic. Projected film and images are imaginatively used to create atmosphere and portray the personalities and histories of the characters. Coupled with great sound effects and use of live and pre-recorded music, the effect is very natural and uncontrived. It was refreshing to see this blend of new media amid period costumes and set.

A fantastic adaptation of an important piece of English literary history.
Photos: Gerry Murray
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