DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

Great Expectations – West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds

Writer: Charles Dickens
Adaptation: Michael Eaton
Director: Lucy Bailey
Reviewer: Rich Jevons

This staging of Great Expectations is an epic production of the much-loved Dickens classic rags-to-riches tale. Cleverly adapted by Michael Eaton, it has been truncated into some fifty scenes. The show benefits from Mike Britten’s vast revolving set that both conjures up the atmosphere of Dickensian London, as well as serving the numerous scene changes seamlessly. Director Lucy Bailey proves why she is worthy of returning to the Playhouse since her successes with Dial M For Murder and The Postman Always Rings Twiceusing inventive and original direction.

One highlight of the performance is Jane Asher’s withering Miss Havisham, a sinister spinster but here not so demonised though nor too likeable either. Rhys Gannon and Imogen Cole are revelations as the young Pip and Estella, with the latter teasing him of his lowly status throughout.

The tone of the production is truly Dickensian but without cliché, and is a glorious coming of age adventure combined with Gothic horror and sociological study. The three hours and over fifty scenes fly by, as the audience become immersed in the compelling narrative and suspenseful character development. Particularly entertaining and incisive is the production’s description of London, as seen through the eyes of a wealthy young gentleman; the reversal of Pip’s upbringing in harsh poverty.

Bailey and Eaton are painstakingly precise in their powerful storytelling with an ensemble performance and design to die for. Great Expectations opens our eyes to the gross divide in the Victorian class systembut speaks also to our present day of the importance of appearances, which can hide our background. Though, of course, there will always be those who will try to perpetuate the sustaining of our origins, not allowing a second chance. It is particularly rewarding is to see so many school parties at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, giving them a dramatic and dynamic take on what can be a difficult text to teach.

Runs until 2 April 2016 | Image: Idil Sukan

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One Comment

  1. I went up from London to Leeds yesterday to see this production not having seen any reviews. It is absolutely stunning – the set is amazing and manages to make every setting exciting and relevant and there are many different settings. The acting was excellent – Jane Asher was amazing both in her almost ghost-like apperance and in her performance. I am hoping it will come to London so I can see it again!!
    I should mention the programme – the notes inside from the designer, the director and the playwright add enormously to understanding the concepts behind the production.

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