Great Expectations, Bath Theatre Royal and touring

CHARLES Dickens’ classic tale of hope, disappointment and love, Great Expectations, is a favourite for stage adaptation, and you won’t see a better one than the Malvern Theatre/Tilted Wig current tour.

Ken Bentley has worked with Katherine Senior (best known as actress and writer with Creative Cow) on bringing the story of Pip, Estella, Miss Havisham and Joe Gargery to life, incorporating some parts of the original that are often omitted from stage versions.

The cast of eight is led by Nichola McAuliffe as the iconic jilted bride Miss Havisham and Sean Aydon as Pip. Everyone else plays multiple characters as the complex tale unfolds, against an effective musical soundscape by Max Pappen­heim and composer musician Ollie King and a simple central box set.

Pip’s journey from orphaned boy raised by a cruel sister and her kindly husband to a gentleman in London is sped along by the company acting as a chorus, which has the added advantage of bringing passages of Dickens’ original (often ignored to save time on stage) to vivid  as well as literary life.

Director Sophie Boyce Couzens employs often witty choreography and atmospheric music, and her excellent company skillfully depicts more than 30 characters.

Nichola McAuliffe is a poignant Miss Havisham, with none of the stridency that sometimes invades her grief. Edward Ferrow’s Joe and Wemmick, James Camp’s Herbert and Daniel Good’s truly frightening Magwitch are outstanding, and Sean Aydon’s vocal  sweep from reedy rural boy to sophisticated city gentleman is beautifully done.

Audience members leaving the Theatre Royal on the opening night were commenting that the production was “different.”  If you have enjoyed the Shared Experience and Sally Cookson literary adaptations, this is the show for you. Don’t be fooled that this is a “winter” story. It’s a great adaptation of a Dickens classic, brilliantly performed and inventively staged.


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