Review: Great Expectations, The Old Red Lion Theatre

Tom Crowley’s adaptation of Great Expectations transports Charles Dickens’ classic tale to the 21st Century. It follows the story of Pip (Joshua Asare), a young man living in a council estate with his mother (Sarah Thom). The two of them have very little money, no father in the picture and seemingly Pip has little hope of a future. His life changes though, when he meets a wealthy spinster, Miss Havisham (also Thom) and her adopted daughter, Estella (Maryam Grace) with whom he falls desperately in love with. He also has a life altering run in with a fugitive, Magwycz (Liam Bewley) that takes an unexpected turn.

Crowley’s writing is snappy, sophisticated and intelligent. There are times of depth and intrigue as well as some hilarious moments. Crowley charmingly keeps the original story’s integrity, whilst adding a fast-paced edge that easily captivates a modern day audience throughout. The engaging world that is created is partly due to the tremendous depth of Crowley’s characters. Each part, large or small, seems to have been given a rich and colourful individuality that leads to an eclectic and entertaining mix of personalities. There are also some stereotypical characters that are scarily relatable and some of their one liners have the audience in stitches.

The design of Clancy Flynn is superb. The little nuances such as flickering lamps capture the eeriness of the piece and suggest a sense of impending doom. The entire aesthetic of the production is flawless and is a fine example of creating something beautiful with a smaller budget. Odinn Orn Hilmarsson’s music is heart warming and charming, and the sound design echoes the aesthetic in it’s beauty. The whole production is neatly directed and each scene change is incredibly slick, sharp and enjoyable to watch. It is especially impressive that every scene change becomes part of the story in one way or another. Perhaps the stage combat moments could benefit from some development as these are the points that were unimpressive, and not in keeping with the production’s slick feel.

There’s a real sense of chemistry between the cast and as an ensemble they perform magnificently. Asare is impressive as Pip, keeping the pace of the story ticking along nicely. The rest of the cast have the task of multi-roling and they handle it superbly. There is never a sense of confusion with which character an actor is supposed to be portraying, which is commendable in the case of Grace’s characters in particular as their differences are subtle. Thom’s performance is nothing short of mesmerising. Her physicality, along with her calculated precision in both characters is a real highlight.

Overall, Crowley has created an engaging adaptation of Great Expectations. The piece has pace as well as heart. It is engrossing throughout and brings a historic piece of literature successfully to the 21st century. Not to be missed.

Great Expectations is playing at The Old Red Lion Theatre until 6th January 2018. for tickets visit: www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk