Unlike the great unhappiness within the jilted marriage in Dickens’ Great Expectations there is a marriage of great happiness in viewing Neil Bartlett’s stage adaptation of the novel at Derby Theatre.
This play is indeed a marriage of greats; great direction by Sarah Brigham; a great adaptation by Bartlett of which the theatrical Charles Dickens would have been justifiably proud; great performances from the entire ensemble; a great and atmospheric set by Barney George; a great score by Ivan Stott composer and sound designer; all greatly inspired by a great story by Dickens himself.
If this reviewer may humbly make use of the word ‘great’ yet again – the great expectations of the rapt audience are met and an even greater night at Derby Theatre is had by all.
This is very much an ensemble piece with most of the fine actors doubling or trebling their roles to stunning effect. Regularly throughout the play the ensemble act as a physical embodiment of guilt and of crushing ghostly reflections of the consciousness of young Pip’s state of mind as he makes his way in the often harsh Victorian world.
Pip is given a super performance by Geoffrey Breton, gently done but always in command on stage. He holds the audience in his ‘coarse’ hands and is totally believable in his interactions with all he encounters be they cruel, odd or kindly. As a story about benefaction we are in no doubt who is benefiting from Bretons’ measured and naturalistic performance. Us- the totally engaged audience.
Any depiction of Great Expectations desires a compelling and chilling performance from the player who manifests Miss Haversham and Polly Lister’s performance of the peculiar and deeply sad owner of Satis House is majestic and magnetic. Lister’s nuanced interactions with Pip are a blend of kindly and disturbing. Towards the latter half of the play she scrumples around the stage like a ghastly acidic arachnid ready to devour all who get in her way. This has to be one of the best performances seen this year on the Derby Stage.
The cruel and icy Estrella (Kate Spencer) is spoilt haughtiness personified and compelling done by Spencer. Like many of the manners and ill manners of Dickens’ characters such as Estrella: what is seen by today’s audience as historical also has direct reference in our contemporary lives. This is what makes his story so believable to a modern audience. We wouldn’t wish ourselves to be so cruel and heartless but such actions and emotions are still far too evident in our world.
As well as the terrifying escaped convict Magwich (Robert Beck in fine form), the overpowering Jaggers (Jack Quarton) and the unpleasant Mrs Joe (Ella Vale) we have the cast often playing emotionally counter roles mixing the bad with the good person to lovely theatrical effect. Thereby in this small cast totalling nine including Helena Rimmer, Michael Lambourne and Bryn Holding the effect is of a much larger cast telling the story of Great Expectations. In the ensemble voices are used to create noises alongside Ivan Stott’s terrific soundscape and this combination creates outstanding theatrical atmospherics.
And that last synonym ‘outstanding’ (as a release from the word great) is precisely what this production of Great Expectations is. Outstanding. Neil Bartlett’s adaptation is exemplary and finely captures and condenses the gripping nature of the novel to two hours traffic on the Derby Theatre stage. Sarah Brigham’s direction gives the work a stage life beyond all expectation.
Great Expectations runs at Derby Theatre until Sat 21st Oct 2017
Very highly recommended.
Photo credits. Robert Day.