DramaReviewSouth West

Great Expectations – Northcott Theatre, Exeter

Adapter: Ken Bentley

Director: Sophie Boyce Couzens

Designer: James Turner

Reviewer: Bethan Highgate-Betts

After their success with Travels with my Aunt and Our Man in Havana, Tilted Wig Productions and Malvern Theatres Present return with Charles Dickens’ much-loved classic, Great Expectations. The last stop on their five-month tour, Ken Bentley’s adaptation is at Exeter Northcott for five days.

Adapting Dickens’ 544-page classic is no mean feat. The sheer breadth of the plot, with its many twists and turns, would be daunting for any production. But Bentley’s adaptation manages to encompass so much of the original text and stays very true to Dickens much-loved tale of heartbreak and longing. The narrative follows orphan Pip through every stage of his life and personal development, from a downtrodden country boy to city man-about-town.

The classic tale is brought to life by Sophie Boyce Couzens inventive directions and engaging choreography from Corinne Meredith. Utilising James Turner’s minimalist, but dynamic set that sits centre stage throughout, the cast climb and dance around its many expanding elements. The scenes change quickly and effectively from a blacksmiths workshop to a once grand, run-down mansion. These elements help to visually engage the audience in what could otherwise be a very dry and somewhat dialogue-heavy piece. 

The production opens with a mesmerising choral performance as the ensemble cast appears out of the mist by candlelight. This eerily beautiful beginning sets the scene for the rest of the show and is a technique which is returned to. The ensemble becomes the narrators, which after such a serene opening feels a little jarring and creates a dynamic that can feel somewhat unengaging.

Olivier Award-winning actor Nichola McAuliffe takes on the iconic role of Miss Havisham and leads the confident ensemble cast through the faithful adaptation. An enchanting performance by McAuliffe, she captivates the audience with every moment she is on stage, and her scenes becoming the true joy of the production. She manages to bring both a fiery passion and a stillness to the tragic figure of Miss Havisham; a stillness juxtaposed with the constant twists and turns of the scenes she is absent from.

The rest of the cast is strong, with Séan Aydon as Pip and Isla Carter as Estella growing up before our very eyes, carrying their separate stories. The rest of the much-loved Dickens characters are played by the six-strong ensemble (including Carter). Live music is played throughout with accordion and whistle, adding to the ambience of the party scenes. Other sound elements are also explored on stage, with thunderstorms and the noises of the blacksmith’s workshop being created by the ensemble cast.

Despite the triumphs of performance and direction, the production can feel somewhat laboured at times, due mostly to the loyalty the adaptation holds to the original text. At two-and-a-half hours, Great Expectations packs a lot in but loses energy and becomes less engaging towards the end.

That being said, it is a capable production that any Dickens fan will enjoy.

Runs until 23 June 2018 | Image: Lisa Roberts

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score

A faithful adaptation

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Mark Clegg. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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