Great Expectations at Vaudeville Theatre
Great Expectations is not a title you would typically expect to see lit up amongst the bright lights of the West End. Impossible, some might say to adapt such a lengthy classic into a story fit for the stage – a challenge that Jo Clifford accomplishes with gloomy style. Diverting from Dickens’ tale, this adaptation is told by an older Pip revisiting Miss Havisham’s ghoulish bride-chamber and telling the story of his rise and fall from expectations.
The stage, designed by Robin Peoples, is extraordinarily lavish, dressed as Havisham’s dilapidated dining room. The table is still set for the wedding breakfast and the ornate walls have great holes in them that characters hauntingly creep in and out of. The fireplace, table, and piano are all platforms for characters to perform on, transforming the single room into Gargery’s forge, Jaggers’ office, a grotty old London street or a stormy marsh for Magwitch’s escape.
As the play is a constant stream of Pip’s memories, Joe and Havisham are always on stage. Each sits in either corner ready to grab at the younger Pip, who is portrayed in an outstanding performance by Taylor Jay-Davies. When they are not part of the immediate action they hang-back, limp like rag-dolls for the older Pip to take centre stage, creating a nightmarish state that tantalises the audience. Paula Wilcox is the perfect blend of spite and misery as Havisham, wailing one moment and cursing the next.
Graham McLaren’s direction is gripping. His use of the space is cunningly conceived so that there is always something catching the audience’s eye – a ghoulish face peering out of the wall or shadowy silhouette in the mirror. The creepy masks the Londoners wear to haunt Pip are a particular delight.
Whilst there is never a dull moment in the two-hour adaptation, you can’t help but feel that so much of the flesh of Dickens’ classic is missing. His genius lay in his winding plots and elaborate characters; however, on stage, Herbert Pocket is diluted into Pip’s snobby educator and Wemmick is a skittish grabber of “portable property”.
Nevertheless, this is a wonderfully thought out and sumptuously staged adaptation of a truly brilliant piece of British literature. Though the condensed story line may cost the original novel some of its soul, the story that is told is done superbly with a stellar cast and wickedly gorgeous set. This is one show that will surely meet the Great Expectations of the sparkling West End.
Great Expectations is at the Vaudeville Theatre until 1st June 2013. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.