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Great Expectations (tour – Norwich, Maddermarket Theatre)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Any new professional theatre company aiming its product at smaller and medium-scale venues is to be congratulated on its enterprise. A lot of commitment has obviously gone into Adam Morley’s production of the Hugh Leonard adaptation of DickensGreat Expectations but one can see why this version has not been among the most popular.

We meet Pip both as the young-man-about-town and as his adolescent self whose initial meeting with the escaped convict Magwitch is the impetus for his subsequent career. This narrative framework draws us into the story and at the same time distances us from it. Becky Athawes’ asymmetrical set clutters the stage with three main furnished and symbolic areas – London (for the rooms which Pip shares with Herbert, Jaggers’ chambers and Wemmick’s home), Miss Havisham’s mansion and Joe Gargery’s forge. In this case, less might have been more effective.

Some of the performances are good. I liked Freddie Capper’s gangling Herbert and both the Pips – Charlie Hobbs as the gauche young country lad and Michael Longhi as the would-be gentleman. Joe Gargery is one of those salt-of-the-earth creations and a gift to any actor. Mark Drake seized the opportunity. Estella is a difficult part to make sympathetic, but Aislinn De’Ath looks attractive and convinces as the trapped butterfly (this version suggests a conventional ending to her relationship with Pip).

Dickens always made his grotesques livelier than his heroes and heroines. Alan Booty as Jaggers, Lloyd Morris as Magwitch and Terence Vincent as Wemmick don’t disappoint. There’s an interesting doubling of the two mother-figures in Pip’s life by Helen Kennedy, who plays both Mrs Joe and Biddy. Miss Havisham is a tragic figure who should evoke pity, understanding, fear and repulsion in equal proportion. Patricia Derrick made her a horror movie escapee, not a woman made bitter by abandonment.


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