Theatre Review: Great Expectations

I have been remiss with posting my many theatre reviews and opinion column pieces on here recently – the modern-day problems with being a busy working freelance writer! Time to make up for this however. To begin with, here’s my latest review which was originally published in Lancashire Life

Theatre Review: Great Expectations at Theatre by the Lake

By Ken Powell

Nichola McAuliffe (Miss Havisham). Photography by Lisa Roberts

Tilted Wig Productions and Malvern Theatres have produced Charles Dickens’ beloved Great Expectations and are currently touring the country with it. At the time of writing it’s at Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake.

The ‘star’ actor for the show, Nichola McAuliffe, plays the role of Miss Havisham and makes her surprisingly tender and human. Traditionally, the character is portrayed as twisted and borderline crazy in her pursuit of revenge on all males, but McAuliffe presents us with a sad old woman whose heart is really not always in it. Her moments of cruelty are barely noticeable and that, somehow, makes the character more believable.

Séan Aydon takes the principal role of Pip, the hero of the story. It is his ‘great expectations’ which we follow from his childhood until he is a young man and watch him as he matures and learns important lessons about life. The character is a gentle one, not unlike the naïve Kim of Kipling’s famous story, and Aydon certainly portrays this well. His transformation from seven-year-old to grown man was subtle but nicely done.

For me however. Edward Ferrow stole the show. Playing multiple parts, I was most impressed with his handling of Pip’s first guardian and friend, Joe Gargery, and the financial clerk Wemmick. So superbly different was the handling that it took me some time to consciously realise the parts were played by the same actor. This was in contrast to the other actors who played so many roles that these did, at times, merge into one another and it was hard to keep track who was meant to be who.

The nine-man ensemble use a minimalist staging – a cubic frame not unlike, appropriately, a prison cell – and a handful of props to evoke the atmosphere of a dozen settings at least and it works very well. Metaphor abounds, not least the way Miss Havisham is kept, quite literally, boxed up until called upon for her scenes. The cast manage to call on the imagination of the audience without lapsing into modernistic anachronisms so popular with Shakespearean productions but also avoid making the classic story banal as an historical set piece.

Some classic tales lose their punch in modern times but Great Expectations isn’t one of them. Although the ending rambles a wee bit after we finally come to know who the ‘great benefactor’ is in Pip’s life, the issues raised are still very important today and drive the play on. Is being rich and ‘socially acceptable’ the most important pursuit in life? Does it matter how you obtain fortune and how you use it? What does it mean to be poor? Can love, and even money, redeem the past? In an individualist capitalist society bordering on hedonism today, these are still questions which need asking. Dickens didn’t fear asking tough questions in the middle of the 19th century and they are still good ones even now. This cast raises them again – delightfully well.

Edward Ferrow (Joe Gargery). Photography by Lisa Roberts

 

Social Entrepreneur, writer and journalist D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Ken has two new books coming out soon – don’t miss them!

Sign up for Ken’s new writing project – ‘The Pukur’ – at Patreon.

Both ‘The Old Man on the Beach’ and ‘Sonali’ are available on Amazon for kindle and paperback. Published by Shopno Sriti Media.

D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at dkpowell.contact@gmail.com

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