“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 music is beautifully chosen and forms a beguiling and well-crafted backdrop”
Molière’s daring script, based on a story by Tirso de Molina, was published in 1665, with a milder version written by Corneille in 1677 at the request of Molière’s widow. Director, Anastasia Revi, makes bold, enriching changes to the play, emphasising a less considered aspect of Don Juan as a man who is victim of his own desires. The initial scene setting is brilliantly clever, playing with the audience’s preconceptions, and the added ‘Illusion of Love’ character creates a visual dimension to Don Juan’s vulnerability. In addition, placing the action at the Venice carnival rather than Sicily allows for a more playful atmosphere. In the play, newly-wed Don Juan is pursued by vengeful relatives while embarking on further amorous adventures. After fleeing, unrepentant, he experiences a series of supernatural encounters before finally confronting his failings, and fate.
Peter Rae is superb as the free-thinking, amoral Don Juan, consumed by his weakness for women and without a care for the distresses he leaves behind. He puts across a self-assured nonchalance as he engages in entertaining, philosophical discussions with the devout yet ambitious Sganarelle, wonderfully portrayed by David Furlong. Furlong perfectly balances the servant’s need to challenge his master’s views while being careful not to risk his job. There are a couple of instances where we enjoy the valet’s own take on Don Juan, but it is the chemistry of their relationship that defines this interpretation and drives the narrative.
The discarded yet defiant Elvira is played by Emmanuela Lia in a strong performance as she scorns her husband’s deceit until recalled by her faith to the convent. There is a wealth of distinctive characters in the talented hands of Benoît Gouttenoire and Samuel Lawrence who, behind Venetian masks, appear as men, women, young and old. In particular, Lawrence’s Pierrot and Don Luis stand out. Signe Preston as the Illusion of Love gracefully weaves round the theatre enticing Don Juan’s susceptibility.
Anastasia Revi’s inspired direction assimilates the whole theatre space, involving the audience in the action and giving energy to the production. The music is beautifully chosen and forms a beguiling and well-crafted backdrop, at times providing its own comedy. The resourceful set design by Valentina Sanna uses a handful of props to conjure up a privileged lifestyle and she makes good use of height on the small stage. Chuma Emembolu’s lighting articulates the contrasting moments with precision and sensitivity, and the costumes (Valentina Sanna) and wigs (Umberto Fiorilla) add a touch of disguise to the carnival spirit. As minor comments, the sound is slightly too loud during certain sections of dialogue and the masks occasionally muffle the speech.
Theatre Lab’s ‘Don Juan’ transforms the cliché of seductiveness into an almost endearing cynicism, a weakness of indulgence rather than the acme of male prowess, and in doing so, the female element becomes more dominant and the passages of philosophising make more sense. With an excellent cast and lively staging this is somehow both rollicking entertainment, and food for thought.