Great Expectations

By Charles Dickens, adapted by Neil Bartlett

Watermill Theatre, Newbury

(2011)

Review by Robin Strapp

Bringing Charles Dickens' epic masterpiece Great Expectations to the stage must be a daunting and challenging task but director Paul Hart has created an imaginative, intricate and taut production in Neil Bartlett's adaptation and the play is simply a triumph.

Laura McEwen's atmospheric set filled with a pot-pourri of lanterns, birdcages and clocks on a huge semi circular floor to ceiling wooden shelving is beguiling.

The complex plot dramatically begins when young Pip, superbly played by Edward Hancock, encounters an escaped convict, the enigmatic Magwitch, powerfully performed by Stephen Finegold, and helps him to break free of his chains and flee. Little does Pip know that this chance meeting would change his life forever.

The orphaned Pip lives with his cruel overbearing sister Mrs Jo (Emma Beattie) and her blacksmith husband, the kind sympathetic Mr Jo Gargery (Russell Layton)

His Uncle Mr Pumblechook (Jed Aukin) brings Pip good news and an introduction to the spinster, Miss Havisham, where he is to go and play with her niece the proud pretty yet selfish Estella (Mabel Jones) who has been trained to break men's hearts.

Kazia Pelka brings a fresh intelligent interpretation as the vindictive Miss Havisham, more cunning and calculating and not so crazy or histrionic as she is normally played, in an impressive performance.

Time has stood still, quite literally, as all the clocks in the house have stopped at the precise time that Miss Havisham was jilted on her wedding day. She still wears her decaying wedding dress and keeps her rotting wedding cake.

Pip becomes indentured to Jo as an apprentice blacksmith and his fortune changes when lawyer Mr Jaggers brings news of a mysterious benefactor who has left Pip a small fortune.

Pip travels to London where he meets his childhood friend Herbert Pocket (Thomas Padden) who teaches Pip the ways of a gentleman and Pip embraces this lifestyle with relish, spending his money with reckless abandon.

The convoluted stories eventually intertwine in a dramatic and unexpected ending as Pip's true benefactor is revealed and Estella's father is discovered.

The eight strong splendid cast provide some eerie sound effects designed by Tom Mills and Richard Howell's haunting lighting deftly creates the myriad scenes.

This is a stunning innovative production that exceeds all expectations.

"Great Expectations" runs until 5th November