“an immensely impressive show: beautifully directed, with a brilliant cast and gorgeous mise en scène”
Theatre Lab Company brings to the Playground Theatre their gothic twist on the classic Charles Dickens’ tale, Great Expectations.
The well-known to British audiences tale of love, loss and journey from rags to riches got some intensive and extensive tuning. While retaining the main, basic plotline, Theatre Lab Company’s adaptation completely changes perspective and load factor, shifting attention to a more feminine point of view.
Cleverly adapted by Lydia Vie, the show’s main focus is on Miss Havisham (Helen Bang) and her doomful influence on Estella (Denise Moreno) and Pip’s (Samuel Lawrence) lives and their relationship; she remains on stage throughout almost the entire first act. Bang’s star shines the brightest of the entire – admittedly brilliant – cast, with hardly any stage movement whatsoever, her ferocity and vulnerability create a powerful, emotional volcano. Lawrence and Moreno are excellent as never-to-be lovers, and the arc of their relationship, particularly in the context of the very subtly altered ending, is beautifully complete. The other subplots are sort of rushed and actors, except Shaun Amos (Herbert Pocket), hardly have time for their characters to really vibrate on a similar wavelength.
The most impressive part of this show is, and by far, the direction by Anastasia Revi. The exceptional set (Eirini Kariori) and lighting design (Chuma Emembolu) help to build a gloomy, gothic atmosphere. Scenes from Pip and Estella’s childhood are especially engaging, played to the haunting tune of The Garden by Einsturzende Neubaten. Scene shifts are beautifully subtle and the use of dance immensely clever. It is, by all means, a five star direction of a show that otherwise tells a tiny bit too much and shows a tiny bit not enough.
Pacing of the adaptation is probably its biggest downside of. The first act is 70 minutes long, whereas the second one lasts only 30 minutes – the story in the first is unwinding slow, which results in the second act being crammed with the biggest reveals and the story “jumping” from one character to another just to finish their respective subplots. It does not, though, diminish the opportunity to immerse oneself in this show – there is just too much to admire.
It is, overall, an immensely impressive show: beautifully directed, with a brilliant cast and gorgeous mise en scène. The perfect play it is not – but you will love it.
“a good choice for theatre goers looking for more thoughtful seasonal fare”
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol seems a particularly timely choice of pre-Christmas fare this year. As one walks through the streets of London lit with extravagant decorations and past shops bursting with gifts, it’s quite a shock to get to the Greenwich Theatre and be drawn back into a Victorian world of cruel avariciousness and indifference to the suffering of one’s neighbours. A Christmas Carol is a fable about the austere world that Dickens knew so well as a child, and then wrote about so vividly as an adult. It’s an appropriate reminder that not everyone has the means to enjoy Christmas, or any seasonal celebration, even today.
The European Arts Company’s production of A Christmas Carol is a one man show, recreating Dickens’ own reading tours of his best selling novella. Sitting in the theatre, listening to John O’Connor recite the entire piece from memory, it is easy to understand why this piece has held the attention ever since 1843, when it was first published. Dickens’ words are so memorable, they hardly need a set, lights, music, or even movement from O’Connor. It is enough to let the actor’s voice paint the scenes that introduce us to Scrooge, his ghostly visitors, his nephew Fred, and of course, the unfortunate Bob Cratchit and his disabled son, Tiny Tim.
Director Peter Craze does not take the power of Dickens’ words for granted, however. This version takes care with every detail of the staging. The setting, John O’Connor’s costume, (both designed by Tom Paris) and any prop that might add to the authenticity of the actor’s portrayal of the great writer himself is finely done, and present on stage. There are witty touches, like two enormous traveling trunks which open to reveal bookcases, lamps, and other details of a Victorian writer’s study. The lights are designed (by Duncan Hands) to illuminate these at the appropriate moment, and a screen between the trunks allows for the projection of period street scenes. The music and sound effects (Matthew Eaton) are equally chosen with care. All that is left for O’Connor to do is to narrate the story, and give the audience a sense of the characters. It is here that the authenticity of the recreation falls down a bit—not because of O’Connor’s acting skills—but because it is well nigh impossible for a modern actor to recreate Victorian fashions of public speaking without seeming ridiculous. O’Connor wisely confines himself to creating a warm, authorial voice with frequent steps out of Dickens’ character, and into the characters of A Christmas Carol.
This Victorian morality tale is a good choice for theatre goers looking for more thoughtful seasonal fare. It will give much to discuss on the way home from the theatre, passing the homeless trying to keep warm. A Christmas Carol is always a well timed wake up call to help the less fortunate in our communities. Because, really, who wants to spend Christmas alone in the company of the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet To Come?