“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.
Mrs Manningham (Jemima Murphy) believes she is going mad, for what other explanation could there be when keys, pendants, even paintings go missing and end up amongst her own possessions.
Her husband, Mr. Manningham (Jordan Wallace), grows seemingly impatient with her inability to remember her own small thefts and strange behaviours, and threatens the visit of a doctor who will, no doubt, prescribe the same awful fate for her as befell her mother – the madhouse.
But all is not as it seems in the Manningham household, as is revealed by a kindly though somewhat motivated stranger, Rough (Joe Mcardle).
Murphy and Wallace both play their parts admirably: Murphy flits nervously about like a small bird, trying to disguise bordering hysteria with excitable cheer. Wallace is a force, ruling with restrained, smiling fury. My only criticism for both is their choice of pronunciation. It seems a decision has been made to use modern diction for certain words: ‘yeh’, ‘gonna’, ‘dunno’, sometimes dropping ‘t’s. Perhaps this is an attempt for the performers to feel more honest in what they’re expressing, but the script was written in the ‘30s after all, and throwing in contemporary pronunciation once in a while sounds anachronistic and awkward.
After an excruciatingly tense twenty minutes between Mr and Mrs Manningham in the first half, Mcardle’s Rough is a much-needed respite, and the audience seems to laugh out of sheer relief. Affable and without airs, Mcardle plays his part with a kind of likeable impatience, cutting the play’s unbearable discomfort with ease.
Throughout, we hear a low, ominous rumble, so faint I’m not entirely sure it’s really there. If this is on purpose, it’s awfully clever, gently gaslighting the audience. If it’s not, sound designer Herbert Homer-Warbeck should say it is and take all the credit.
In a way, it’s a shame that the phrase ‘gaslighting’, coined from this very play, is now in such common use, obviously because no-one should gaslight anyone, but also because you know what’s happening in the play from the get. I would be interested to see if they couldn’t condense the story slightly into a 75-minute single act, in order that the plot’s big reveal might be somewhere nearer the end, rather than half way through.
That being said, Gaslight, as directed by Imy Wyatt Corner, is still fraught with suspension and quiet terror, regardless of whether we know where it’s going to end up. On leaving the theatre, my shoulders ached from two hours of sustained panic, and gripping tension.