“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.
“the company succeeds in bringing off this show with great flair”
If you haven’t yet discovered the oasis of peace in busy Hoxton that is the Geffrye Museum, then, for the next few weekends in August, you have an additional reason to go. Free Theatre UK is performing a “steam punk” version of Charles Dickens’ beloved classic Great Expectations that audiences of all ages will enjoy. This is an outdoors production, so bring along a picnic, something to sit on, and don’t worry if it rains. The company is well prepared with tents for both performers and the audience. And did I mention it’s free?
Great Expectations is the kind of novel that gets introduced to school kids at too young an age, and it is often years before they wish to tackle Dickens again. This is a great pity not only because the story of Pip and the extraordinary characters who surround him is unforgettable, but as always, Dickens paints a vast canvas illuminating the lived realities of the Industrial Age. It is appropriate, therefore, that Free Theatre has chosen to perform this adaptation in the grounds of the Geffrye Museum, founded and built by a successful merchant as almshouses for the widows and orphans of ironmongers. Skillfully adapted by Phil Willmott, this production of Great Expectations is also highly accessible, so it’s a wonderful way to introduce your kids to Dickens before they have a chance to get discouraged.
Like Pip, Free Theatre UK also has “great expectations,” and the company succeeds in bringing off this show with great flair. Everything has been thought through with care, from the greeter at the gate who ushers you into the gardens of the Geffrye Museum, to the actor who courteously bids you farewell at the end of the show. The set is elaborate by outdoors performance standards, with a lot of imaginative touches. Both this, and the costumes, designed by Penn O’Gara, give this production its “steam punk” elements, and if there is one criticism to be made, it is that this idea could have been developed a bit further in the script. But the design elements use steam punk to memorable effect.
Free Theatre UK is, for the most part, a young company, although what some performers lack in experience, they make up for in talent. Under the capable direction of Phil Willmott, everyone has a chance to shine. Noteworthy performances include Cal Chapman as Pip, Darcey O’Rouke as Estella, and the terrific Matthew Wade, who takes on contrasting roles as the convict Magwitch, and as Joe, Pip’s gentle and caring foster father. There’s also Jan Hewitt’s wonderfully operatic Miss Havisham to enjoy as well. As an ensemble, the cast works beautifully together, taking on multiple roles, sharing the narration between them, and even performing some live music.
You’ve got two weekends and Bank Holiday Monday to catch this glorious show. Go!
Reviewed by Dominica Plummer
Images by Joseph Mark Photography
The Geffrye Museum of the Home until 1st September