Saturday, 5 October 2013

Great Expectations at Bristol Old Vic

Pip and Estella - photo by Mark Douet

“A strange meeting in a churchyard sets in motion a chain of events that will shower a young man with money, break his troubled heart and lead him deep into a labyrinth of deception and discovery. Great Expectations is a story about transformation, loss and - ultimately - forgiveness.”

The team at Bristol Old Vic has pulled out the big guns for this reworking of the famous Charles Dickens tale, Great Expectations. This version is adapted and directed by Neil Bartlett, who graduated from the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in 1981 – and this is his first Bristol production since that time. So there’s no pressure on him, then!

We flit between protagonist Pip as an adult and child – with the differences marked only by a lowly accent and rolled up trousers. But in a production that is marked by minimalist yet effective design (set, lighting, costume) this works well. In fact, the only thing that’s not minimal in this production is the booming sound effects.

Orphaned as so many of Dickens’ protagonists are, Pip is dragged up by his begrudging elder sister, who is married to a henpecked blacksmith. However, between the above-mentioned chance meeting with a man in a churchyard, and a later chance meeting with the bitterly insane Miss Havisham, Pip is set to walk along a bumpy road.

On the whole, I felt Neil Barlett pulled off a big achievement with this Bristol Old Vic production. As Pip, newcomer Tom Canton (who graduated from RADA in 2012) sometimes seems a little out of his depth in such a demanding role, but on the whole he was engaging and convincing, and has an impressive stage presence.

However, it was the supporting cast who really bring this production of Great Expectations to life. As the decaying Miss Havisham, Adoja Andoh was captivating and it was hard to take your eyes off her as she hobbled around the stage, trailing shreds of tatty dress behind her. And Miss Havisham’s protégée Estella (Laura Rees) was almost as entertaining – stomping and stropping around the stage like a possessed Tiny Tears doll.

But the two clear stars of this show are Tim Potters in the role of weasly lawyer Mr Jaggers, and Miltos Yerolemou (last seen here in A Midsummer Night's Dream) in the role of sycophantic Mr Pumblechook (who wins the, ahem, crown for the funniest moment of the play during the Christmas dinner scene). Throw in Yerolemou’s gently hilarious interpretation of Sarah Pocket, and hopefully we have ourselves a new Bristol Old Vic regular cast member. Fingers crossed!

Great Expectations is performed in the main theatre at Bristol Old Vic until 2 November. For further information and to book tickets, please click here.

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