Attempting to produce for the stage what many argue is Charles Dickens‘ greatest book is always going to be a challenge. However, the Library Theatre’s new production, adapted by Neil Bartlett, not only conveys the complexity and colour of the original, but also reminds the audience of the true meaning of the phrase ‘the magic of theatre’.
The story concerns a young boy named Pip who has an encounter with an escaped criminal that changes his life. He is then brought to the attention of a strange old spinster, Miss Havisham, and her adopted daughter, Estella. These story strands entwine to create a gripping and enthralling tale of a life lived with ‘great expectations’.
Leon Williams delivers a wonderful performance as Pip, and he also provides the bulk of the narration of this twisting story, holding the whole play together. The rest of the cast perform brilliantly in a number of roles with both Richard Heap and Ian Harris being particularly noteworthy for their versatility. Helen Ryan’s Miss Havisham is both creepy and affecting, rather than simply dotty or stiry crazy, as she is often played. Between them, the seven actors fill the stage with the feel of a cast of hundreds.
Special mention, however, has to be made of the work of director Roger Haines, designer Michael Pavelka, sound designer Paul Gregory, and all the rest of the technical crew. They make full use of the Library’s small stage, creating startling worlds through the clever use of doors and a handful of props. With's skilful application of lights, sound, music and a few carefully designed pieces of scenery, they create a range of moods, from oppressive to scary, comic to tragic, and a range of locations from the marshes, to the forge, to Miss Havisham’s house and finally the middle of the Thames.
Although many of the sub-plots from the novel have had to be cut to create a reasonable length for the play, this does not in any way effect the enjoyment. It is a truly wonderful production where good acting comes together with innovative adapting and a powerful vision to evoke a different time and a different world.
Great Expectations plays until 17th January, which is great news, as it will leave you with plenty of time to see it twice, as once is not enough!