Great Expectations

Charles Dickens, adapted by Ken Bentley

Titled Wig Productions and Malvern Theatres

Festival Theatre, Malvern

From 08 February 2018 to 17 February 2018

Review by Colin Davison

Great expectations? Better not get your hopes up.

It cannot be easy to transfer Dickens’s many-stranded narrative onto the stage. But in their anxiety to do the story justice, it seems adaptor Ken Bentley and director Sophie Boyce Couzens have tried to cram in every sub-plot, every minor personality.

It’s left to eight actors to play 19 principal characters and numerous others—some of whom appear inconsequentially and are never seen again—with role switches often indicated by minimal costume changes.

Meanwhile, incidents in the life of our hero Pip are raced over by narrators, with the repeated comment: “Pip felt…” So much for ‘show, don’t tell.’

Dickens’s creations are larger than life. These had life squeezed out of them. Some severe editing and rewriting is required, not least in the ending, which was so anti-climactic, it was as if someone had simply turned the lights off.

The cast had to give much attention to negotiating the set, which for no obviously good reason was shaped like a metal cage. Even the few jokes, like the police taking their drink “which is almost as good as taking the culprit,” fell flat.

Nevertheless, when the actors were left to do what they do best, namely act in properly developed scenes, there were moments to enjoy, with Nichola McAuliffe’s Miss Haversham as icy-hearted as Edward Ferrow’s Joe Gargery was generous, Daniel Goode as a fearsome Magwitch, and James Camp as the eminently likeable Herbert Pocket.

Sean Aydon, a pip-sized Pip, seemed to grow physically in his journey to manhood, beside Isla Carter’s improbably mature Estella.

The award for best all-round performance should however go to the splendid Eliza Collings, playing seven different roles, differentiated by an accent here, a gesture there. Most of the roles, it must be said, were superfluous to the action, but without them there would not have been the pleasure of admiring Miss Collings’s versatility.