“Scared” Polly to play Miss Haversham in Derby

Steve Orme

Polly Lister is approaching the role of Miss Haversham in Derby Theatre’s production of Dickens’ Great Expectations with trepidation.

She was just as apprehensive when she played Beverley in Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party at Theatre by the Lake, Keswick in 2015—and walked away with a UK Theatre award.

She said, “sometimes it’s the things that you’re most scared of that turn out be your best friends. I remember when I got the role of Beverly I thought ‘oh gosh’ as people have such strong ideas of what they believe it to be. As soon as I was cast I stopped and thought ‘this is going to be so hard’ but it’s the part that won me the award.

“It’s the same with Miss Havisham. The part is bigger than the actress. Everybody thinks they know how she should be and it’s your job to convince them otherwise.”

She finds the wealthy spinster created by Dickens endlessly intriguing: “Miss Havisham jumped wholeheartedly into marriage, she thought that would be the beginning of a different life and when it didn’t happen she stopped living. She stopped the clock and let everything decay around her.

“She would be a sad, tragic figure if that was all there was to it but there’s this cruel aspect where she drips poison into Estella (her adopted daughter) to try to make her into a hard woman. That’s what takes away some of our sympathy and divides us when we think about her.”

Lister is on familiar ground at Derby Theatre, playing several roles in Mike Kenny’s adaptation of Siobhan Dowd’s novel Solace of the Road in 2015 and appearing as Mam in Lee Hall’s Cooking with Elvis in 2013.

Solace of the Road was directed by Derby Theatre’s artistic director Sarah Brigham who is at the helm for Great Expectations.

“Getting back to Derby and working with Sarah again is just the best thing,” said Lister. “Great Expectations is a story that has been told for many, many years and we get the privilege of telling it again with a great group of people.”

The cast comprises Robert Beck (Magwitch), Geoffrey Breton (Pip), Kate Spencer (Estella), Jack Quarton (Joe Gargerry and Mr Jaggers), Jo Mousley (Mrs Joe and Biddy), Michael Lambourne (Uncle Pumblechook and Bentley Drummle), Bryn Holding (Matthew Pocket) and Helena Rimmer (Sarah Pocket).

Great Expectations is adapted by Neil Bartlett and designed by Barney George. Composer is Ivan Stott and lighting designer is Tim Skelly. It runs at Derby Theatre from Friday 29 September until Saturday 21 October.