Our review of Great Expectations at Woking New Victoria
Paula Wilxon plays Miss Havisham in this stage adaptation of Dickens’ Great Expectations at Woking New Victoria
The eagerly awaited new stage adaption of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations has opened at Richmond Theatre, kicking off a regional tour before it heads to the West End, writes Robert Edwards
Judging by the press night performance, it is remarkable that this story, first written in 1860, has never been adapted for the London stage before.
Starring a number of familiar faces, many from the world of soap, including Paula Wilcox as Miss Haversham and The Bill’s, Chris Ellison (DI Frank Burnside), it is the quality of Jo Clifford’s adaptation that makes the play.
Paula Wilcox of Emmerdale and Footballer’s Wives fame steals the show. The audience is held enraptured by the chilling, primal howl she unleashes as Miss Haversham as Estella (Grace Rowe) argues with the jilted bride.
The curtain of fire that sweeps the stage as her tattered dress ignites pays homage to the ingenious set design.
Chris Ellison is no stranger to Dickens, having played the role of Bill Sykes in Oliver! at the Noel Coward Theatre. His return as Magwitch is truly terrifying.
Taking the part of lawyer Jaggers, Jack Ellis of Coronation Street gives an edifying portrayal of Pip’s abrupt, self-possessed guardian.
With exceptional skill, Jo Clifford has painstakingly stripped back the complex, interwoven subplots and produced a masterwork, which hurtles through the narrative without losing any of the raw intensity of the original.
“Great Expectations is full of the most amazing characters,” says Clifford, “who all say the most wonderful things that, with a bit of clever editing, work wonderfully well onstage.”
The show first opened in Glasgow in 1988 but was re-written by Clifford for the current national tour.
Laying at the heart of the piece the tragedy of Havisham and the trials of the brutalised orphan Pip, the adaptation loyally hoists its audience into Dickens’ arresting theme of abuse breading abuse.
The torrid inheritance of the beautiful Estella and the destiny shaping authority of convict Magwitch enhance this theme.
With a rigid although breath-taking set, the sophisticated use of lighting and elegant costume seamlessly carry the viewer through time and place, from the decayed grandeur of Satis House to the warm glow of the blacksmith’s furnace.
The dour and darkened corners of the set seem to subsume the cast as they literally blend into the walls, emerging to haunt the memory of the adult Pip (Paul Nivison) who observes the entire traffic from the wings.
It is a truly moving scene when the young Pip (Tayor Jay-Davies) is slowly replaced by his adult self, and the last semblance of his childhood innocence creeps away.
The night also saw the launch of The Dickens Trust by Bruce Athol MacKinnon and Lucinda Dickens Hawksley (the author’s great-great-great-granddaughter) to mark the author’s bicentenary.
True to the author’s philanthropic legacy, the trust will receive a share of the box office receipts and distribute the funds to organisations helping the less fortunate – a worthy cause with high expectations.
Great Expectations runs at Richmond Theatre until September 15 before coming to Woking’s New Victoria Theatre September 18 to 22. To book tickets online here.