Review: Great Expectation at South Hill Park
Great Expectations has been retold a gazillion times. It's a good job South Hill Park's latest production is a darkly innovative take on a Dickens classic.
Young orphan boy is sent to the big house to be the play thing of a batty old lady in a decaying wedding dress. Not creepy at all. No. TOTALLY CREEPY. In real life, it’s the sort of story that would have tabloid journalists salivating, followed by the obligatory front page headlines spitting outrage and fury. It can only be Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations – a story told on stage and screen a gazillion times, and South Hill Park’s production is the new kid on the block (on until Sun 27 Oct).
This powerful adaptation delves into the childhood hopes and fears of young Pip (a blacksmith’s apprentice), as he begins his adventures in the windswept marshes of Kent, to the haunting cobwebbed lair of Miss Havisham, before a secret benefactor gives him a leg up the social ladder to become a gentleman. Pip’s epic journey sees him come of age and discover the adult world of love, loss and regret.
Don’t expect a hackneyed, old fashioned interpretation. This production is innovative, modern and will take your breath away. Directed by Joe Malyan, who studied theatre and film, the staging is cinematic, with music, lighting, and a wonderfully creative approach to props, playing a pivotal role in taking the audience from country to town, land to sea and changes in fortune. It’s clever, really clever.
Not since Rhianna’s Umbrella song has the humble rain accessory been talked about so much. They magically create a carriage, the imposing front door of Miss Havisham’s mansion and more. It’s all about the details and the blurring of lines between cast and scenery was a stroke of genius. When they’re not haunting poor Pip with their whispering and lurching, they’re framed like oil paintings or standing rigid with a brolly. I assumed they were suits of armour. If they’re not… Oops, Who knows, who cares? It was just fabulous. No more spoilers, you’ll have to watch the show.
Creds must be given to Keir Buist’s Pip and Caroline Loveys’ Miss Havisham who both put in superb performances. Keir putting in a convincing shift as small boy to grown man – even though he’s probably about six foot.
Caroline’s Ms Havisham played the bitter old bag, corrupted by her own misery, like a pro. Her dress deserving a special mention as I am sUte there are more than a few vintage brides who would fall over themselves to get their mitts on her tea-stained vision of tulle and embroidery. It was divine… although definitely needs a good wash.
There are two absolute stand outs for me: Heather Wilson who played Pip’s hard-faced sister Mrs Joe, Biddy and the hilarious Wemmick. Each character defined by her physical and vocal tweaks. She’s a real talent and when she was wheeled across the stage on an office chair, furiously air typing, the laughter lit up the Wilde Theatre.
Julian Hirst as Mr Pumblechuck and Sarah Pocket was also impressive. A big imposing man, his voice booming with gravitas – which made his appearance in a pink dress and headband all the more funny. Think a cross between Les Dawson’s Ada Shufflebottom and Mrs Doubtfire and you’ll have nailed it. I’m not sure if the gender-bending roles were deliberate here or not, but added to the fresh appeal of this play.
Great Expectations is peppered with memorable humorous moments, with the darker scenes juxtaposed with those offering light relief. It was theatre at its best – immersive, believable and transportive. Go see it if you get the chance.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: If you appreciate top-notch, creative theatre, or simply love a dramatic plot line, this is for you. And if you love Charles Dickens, obvs.
Not for: Younger kids. The show is quite dark in its staging and storyline, so I think I’d probably recommend it from 11+.
Great Expectations is on at the Wilde Theatre, South Hill Park Bracknell until Sun 27 Oct