(images: Mark Douet)
It’s surely quite a daunting task taking Dickens to the stage, needing to please admirers and newcomers alike, but that’s exactly what Neil Bartlett has done with Great Expectations at Bristol Old Vic.
Pip (Tom Canton) is an orphan living with his only surviving sibling (Lindsay Dukes) and her blacksmith husband (Tim Potter). He is a simple labouring boy, until a chance meeting with a escaped criminal and an eccentric lady from uptown changes what Pip had expected from life.
The show opens as it continues, with some intense amplified audio. The cast pepper the performance with use of microphones, picking up on some tiny noises that would otherwise be lost. While it initially felt a little clunky, it soon becomes a lot smoother, truly enhancing the show. The to-and-fro between Pip and Herbert in the second act is particularly effective, forming one of the very well crafted comic elements of the show.
Canton’s transition between Pip’s narration and dialogue is very skilfully done, especially within the first act – dealing very well with dialect changes and completely different characterisation. Special mention must go to his ability to play Pip as a child so well, despite being a foot taller than most of the rest of the cast. Narration felt a little heavy in places near the beginning, but creates some truly brilliant moments.
Adjoa Andoh’s interpretation of Miss Havisham was nothing short of spectacular, developing throughout but maintaining a delightful level of madness. In fact all the women shone – Laura Rees’s cruel childish laughter as Estella and Lindsay Dukes’s begrudging Mrs. Joe. Miltos Yerolemou were largely to thank for most of the expertly delivered and much needed humour in the show. It was clear the cast had great chemistry, gliding over minor complications without missing a beat.
As is understandable with a lengthy and complex classic, some parts of the story felt a little rushed. This meant that some of the particularly emotive moments of the show fell a bit flat. Rick Fisher created some beautiful moments with impeccable lighting – casting perfect silhouettes on the back wall of the impressively large stage – and Timothy X Atack’s use of sound almost punctuated the show with match-strikes.
Bartlett has definitely done Dickens proud, creating a wonderful adaptation of a classic. It lacked a little heart in places, but with some incredible performances, and imaginative and skilful staging, it is a gem of a show and an absolute steal for the price.
Great Expectations runs at Bristol Old Vic until 2 November. Tickets and information can be found on Bristol Old Vic’s website.