CHARLES Dickens’ famously tense and spooky novel Great Expectations has been revised by Neil Bartlett for his new production at Bristol Old Vic, performed by nine actors on a sparsely furnished stage in which the soundscape is as important as the props might usually be.
It’s a bold reading of the famous story, rich in imagery and atmosphere, with the essential elements of the tale of Pip and his mysterious benefactor retained and much extraneous detail stripped away.
Tom Canton is a perfect Pip, growing up before our eyes from a gawky country boy to an arrogant city swell, certain in his own knowledge that it is the eccentric Miss Havisham who has financed his education and who intends him to marry her ward, the haughty and cruel Estella.
Adjoa Andoh’s Miss Havisham is a far more convincing reading than is often provided. Here is a woman for whom time stopped when she was jilted on her wedding day, resulting not only in the warping of her heart and emotions but the twisting of a body wracked with the form of arthritis that can be the almost immediate effect of psychological trauma. She’s a poignant, wicked, schemer with a painful motivation that almost evokes sympathy.
As Estella, Laura Rees (who made an indelible impression at Bath Ustinov’s 2011 production of Iphigenia) returns to the south west to bring to life one of Dickens’ most damaged characters, caught between an ingrained desire to hurt and an uncomprehending awareness of the harm she is doing herself.
This Old Vic production gives two 2013 Bristol Old Vic Theatre School graduates their first professional experience, as recipients of the Patron’s Prize, and Martin Bassindale and Lindsay Dukes each perform their three roles with great skill and variety. Timothy Walker has the legendary role of the convict Magwitch, a doomed character who must terrify the audience, but in whom the young Pip recognises some humanity.
A steep rake has been restored to the Old Vic for this production, which also features Miltos Yerolemou (Bottom in the controversial Dream earlier this year), here playing the wonderfully named Uncle Pumblechook and the audience favourite, the comically scuttling Sarah Pocket.
It would be a pity to spoil your enjoyment by telling you how the scenes are created in this inventive production, but the historic theatre is the ideal setting in which to see this classic staged. GP-W