Great Expectations at the Playground Theatre
Christmas is an ideal time to immerse yourself in the world of Dickens. Great Expectations is, of course, one of the writer’s most notable works and with its universal themes of love, family and money, it remains relevant for today’s audience.
The focus of this adaptation is very much on Miss Havisham, who literally takes centre stage for the majority of the production. One of literature’s greatest figures, the role is no doubt highly appealing to any actress. It’s a complex character that requires the ability to convey madness while refraining from veering too close to caricature. Helen Bang rises to the occasion. The actress is predominantly seated, but with an excellent command of her voice and facial expressions, this in no way restricts her performance. Rather, it grabs and clings onto our attention in an almost spellbinding way. There are glimmers of Norma Desmond here, but ultimately we are provided with a hauntingly fragile woman who knows only pain and loss. It’s a truly impressive portrayal and a real highlight of the show.
Samuel Lawrence is a delight in the role of Pip. As a child he is incredibly convincing in terms of his voice and physicality, exhibiting fear and vulnerability at the hands of his abusive older sister, during his initial encounter with Miss Havisham and of course when he meets Magwitch on the moors during the opening scenes. The actor then adopts new mannerisms, alters his voice and changes the way he carries himself and moves around the stage as he reaches adulthood and becomes a refined gentleman. It’s a believable and captivating performance that allows us to really invest ourselves in the character and his journey.
As Estella, Denise Moreno also successfully shows us a bratty bully of a child. The scenes she shares with young Pip are a joy to watch before the actress goes on to display her impressive talents as the character matures. Bang, Lawrence and Moreno complement one another very well in the scenes they share, with Peter Rae as Magwitch also being of note.
The cast as a whole are strong and it’s more than apparent that everyone has invested a great deal of love and energy into the play, including those behind the scenes. Set Designer Eirini Kariori has created a gorgeously gothic set that really is a visual feast. The wedding table dominates the stage. Laced with cobwebs, ivy and flickering candles, it’s suitably decrepit. Chuma Emembolu’s lighting design enhances the gloominess and the clever use of music and sound effects establishes a foreboding atmosphere which lingers throughout.
The scene transitions are sharp and snappy, which aids the pace. That said, the play is very dialogue-heavy and this does reduce momentum at times. Act Two is also relatively short in comparison to the first half and clogged with back-story. We are still presented with a powerful climax as Pip learns the true identity of his benefactor and Miss Havisham meets her demise, but a little more breathing space would be welcome.
Lydia Vie’s adaptation does not offer us the full story of Great Expectations, but rather focuses on its key characters and plot points, although certain strands feel a tad rushed. Ultimately, though, this is a well-acted, aesthetically pleasing production that is guaranteed to engross and entertain.
Photo: Panayis Chrysovergis
Great Expectations is at the Playground Theatre from 15th December until 29th December 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.