“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 deliciously gothic tale with a wonderfully entertaining main character”
Both the set design and the venue for Edred, the Vampyre could not be more fitting to its subject matter – from the church-like red-draped seating to the stark black and white tiles of the stage and its crimson curtains that are gleefully ripped aside by our protagonist during the opening scene. This is a production that certainly doesn’t shy away from spectacle. It skilfully melds humour and drama, drawing the audience in with a few wry jokes about Google and Wikipedia and then drip-feeding them more and more horror as the show goes on.
Entering the church serving as our eponymous vampire’s dusty abode are gap-year travellers Elizabeth (Zari Lewis) and Jacques (James Hoyles). Filled with a panicked mixture of fear and scepticism, they are surprised to find a vampire that debunks a life of coffins and avoiding the sunlight and instead adopts the debonair paternalism of a camp 18th century uncle as he attempts to explain his life and history. Lewis’ Elizabeth is most drawn to Edred, and she plays the role with a deft mix of adoration, terror, and uncertainty. Comparatively, Hoyles’ character is underused and given less emotional range, but successfully carries off many of the jokes of the first half, furiously swearing at Edred in several entertaining sequences.
The play itself is aptly named, for although it is the other characters that have their lives and emotions rent asunder during the hour-long running time, Edred (Martin Prest) still remains the star – glittering with inimitable flamboyance. His movements and musings are joyful and enchanting to watch, as he sets about helping the duo uncover their own mysterious troubles and night terrors through exploring his thousand-year past.
The stage is set and from there the action unfolds, drawing on every available trope in the gothic arsenal, whether it is the darkness within us all, the dangerous power of sexuality, or familial and historical legacies. Writer David Pinner has filled Edred’s chronicle of historical happenstances with many familiar cultural references, and a large nod to perhaps the original godfather of gothic: William Shakespeare and his blood-filled Macbeth. The directing (Anthony Shrubsall), along with Prest’s excellent lively performance, ensures that there is never a quiet moment and that each historical vignette is delivered with gusto.
The play’s descent into a purer horror and its sudden end may not chime well with all viewers – there is no neat tying up of loose ends, or gentle sweeping character arcs – but for a genre founded on the bedrock of surprise and, above all, drama, it serves the play fittingly. Much like the character of Edred, the play is more about the journey than the end result. Retrospectively, it is perhaps too easy to question why certain storylines were teased at, but the overall ominous atmosphere – carried off with ease by a marriage of set design (Alys Whitehead) and lighting and sound (Chuma Emembolu) – makes for a deliciously gothic tale with a wonderfully entertaining main character.
Reviewed by Vicky Richards
Edred, the Vampyre
Old Red Lion Theatre until 2nd November as part of London Horror Festival 2019