Great Expectations - Review

Any audience for anything Dickens is freighted with expectation.
Since his books were written, they have attracted scores of adaptations, films and recordings from dozens of celebrated directors, actors and film stars: we have become accustomed to a starry Dickens of international fame whose original serials for Blackwood’s magazine in the 1860’s now fill box sets and pack out the cinema.

But a local theatre production of Great Expectations? With a cast of just thirteen actors and minimal sets? Well, people, go and buy tickets at once, and quickly, for this stunning version is up there with the best. Neil Bartlett’s powerful dramatization tells the story in Dickens’ own words with a fizz and a punch that leave you gasping. The New Venture Theatre players, choreographed with lightening speed and dusted with theatrical magic, take several parts at the double: Dan Dryer swaps accents and neckties between Jo and Jaggers whilst Martin Ryan shares his menace between the sergeant and Bentley Drummie. Matt Ingram’s Pip travels some twenty years between rough boy and urban gent as well as managing the narration and breathtaking gymnastics. He is brilliantly charming – why wouldn’t Justine Smith’s abandoned bride adore him? Eventually, even the icy Estella of Emma Lillie Lees melts for an adult Pip and a happy ending. Mark Green is fitting rival to Finlay Currie, David Lean’s churchyard convict in the 1946 film, and no higher praise is possible.

Diane Robinson directs with fantastic skill, assisted by a creative team whose selection of musical scores, set devices, costumes and lighting immediately evoke the atmosphere of the marsh, the ruined Satis House and the Victorian streets of London. Please don’t miss this: it is impossible to imagine a Greater Expectation.

Louise Dumas.