Great Expectations, Charles Dickens, Nichola McAuliffe, Theatre Touring UK

Review: Great Expectations, Yvonne Arnaud Guildford

“A gentleman should never be discourteous”

At the heart of Tilted Wig’s new version of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations is the real box of delights that is James Turner’s set design. Endlessly practical (much needed for a touring show) and versatile in its use of space, I reckon it could either be marketed to IKEA for its storage solutions or to the London housing market as a bijou starter home!

Frivolity aside, it really does epitomise the playfulness of Sophie Boyce Couzens’ production which uses a cast of eight, plus a musician, to depict the coming-of-age of young Philip Pirrip with an elegant take on its theatrical invention. The focus is on storytelling – narrative interjections split between the company, the switch between the multiple characters they all play evoked with simple but effective change of an accent or hat or suchlike.

Great Expectations, Tilted Wig, Yvonne Arnaud,

And what Ken Bentley’s adaptation has to work very little to achieve, is to show us how much this classic novel still resonates with contemporary society. The divide between rich and poor, the inherent snobbery of those in positions of power, the way injustices land disproportionately on those in poverty, the transformative power of love.

Séan Aydon’s Pip proves a compelling focal point. Unafraid to show the occasional unpleasant notes of a young man buffeted by immense change (London will change a person so…), the relationships he creates sparkle with life. From the understated beauty of his emotional connection to Edward Ferrow’s Joe, to the deep friendship with James Camp’s Herbert, to the intense ferocity of Isla Carter’s Estella.

She of course has been weaponised by the inimitable Miss Havisham, played here with disquieting subtlety by a mesmerisingly hollowed-out Nichola McAuliffe in her faded lace. And multi-instrumentalist Ollie King’s compositions keep a slight sense of unease in the air that befits the torrent of events packed in here. Bentley and Boyce Couzens perhaps pack in a little too much, especially as the running time nears its third hour, but in its emotional forthrightfulness and playful theatricality, this is one to watch out for.

Running time: 2 hours 50 minutes (with interval)
Main photo: Matt Austin; production photos by Lisa Roberts Photography
Great Expectations is booking until 24th February, then tours to
27 Feb – 3 Mar Theatr Clwyd, Mold
6 – 10 Mar Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds
12 -17 Mar Richmond Theatre
19 – 24 Mar Palace Theatre, Southend
27 – 31 Mar Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne
3 – 7 Apr Buxton Opera House
10 – 14 Apr Theatre by the Lake, Keswick
19 – 21 April Theatre Royal, Windsor
24 – 28 Apr Theatre Royal, Winchester
2 – 5 May Belgrade Theatre, Coventry
8 – 12 May Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham
22 – 26 May New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth
29 May – 2 June Churchill Theatre, Bromley
4 – 9 June Theatre Royal, Bath
19 – 23 June Exeter Northcott Theatre

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