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Great Expectations

by on 9 November 2022

Turbocharged Dickens

Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens, adapted by Neil Bartlett

Putney Theatre Company at the Putney Arts Theatre until 12th November

Review by Eleanor Lewis

In London in early November, while the sun streams through the trees, warming everything and everyone as if it’s someway into March, it’s unnerving to see dozens of productions of A Christmas Carol springing up everywhere, reminding everyone that it is in fact not long until Christmas despite the alarming weather.  Amidst this sea of spring-like, festive Dickens it’s also comforting to see a production of Great Expectations for the sake of variety, aside from anything else. 

Neil Bartlett’s adaptation of this classic tale is pure theatre.  Great Expectations is a big story with lots of depth and lots of extra little stories going on within it.  Bartlett has distilled the main storyline, included directly pertinent bits and found a way for nine actors to communicate the whole thing to great effect.  Told with humour and some speed, (there’s a tinge of Patrick Barlow’s 2005 hit The 39 Steps about it), it’s quite a challenge to produce the work without sliding completely into pantomime (some parody being intended) but Putney Theatre Company managed to stay just the right side of the line.

Director Ian Higham and Set Designer Lexa Barbulescu staged the production on a main playing space flanked by nine actors sitting either side until they were required to take part in the action centre stage.  A huge book formed a back to the stage and opened to reveal the striking form of Miss Havisham seated high up in her ragged wedding dress, looking down on the boy Pip and anyone else when they visited her.  Put together with Martin Jessop’s lighting, the overall effect was atmospheric and suitably Dickensian.

Nine actors all played more than one role in this production.  This in itself is admirable and all made good use of their skills, but notable amongst the performances was Lois Savill who, as Mrs Joe (and several others) brought an element of poignancy with the smallest of gestures to a woman otherwise best described as a bully.  Similarly, Clare Wall David as Miss Havisham managed to pull off menacing, creepy and betrayed bride all at the same time without going over the top, which is quite an achievement.  The scene in which Miss Havisham is involved in a huge fire (avoiding spoilers, but I think this story is well-enough known) was striking in its visual drama. 

Graham Kellas’ Magwitch I found quite endearing quite quickly, perhaps it was directed to be so, but a little more unhinged, terrifying rage would have been good.  Katerina Spiga’s young Pip also seemed quite a confident 21st century child who wouldn’t be taking any nonsense from anyone, but then again, the more reserved, courteous Pip we are possibly used to can’t be the only way to play him.

Overall, Putney Theatre Company’s Great Expectations is an atmospheric, entertaining and highly enjoyable production of a refreshing version of a Dickens classic, suitable for all the family.

Eleanor Lewis, November 2022

Photography by Steven Lippitt

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