Despite numerous adaptations of Charles Dickens’ much-loved classic novel Great Expectations, the production at the Vaudeville Theatre is, surprisingly, the first time it has been staged in the West End. Condensing the story’s 28 years into just over two hours is no mean feat, but, Jo Clifford and Graham McLaren’s adaptation rises to the challenge with Tim Burton-inspired bravura.
Just with any compromise, there has to be give and take and McLaren’s production acts more as a passing nod to Dickens’ tale, rather than playing strict homage to its every detail. A host of the story’s interesting characters are gone, key storylines are omitted and Pip’s rags to riches social climbing tale happens in the blink of an eye. This may not sit well with the purists, but it works as a great stand-alone piece of dramatic theatre.
The revised story is set out as a memory play in which the middle-aged Pip (Paul Nivison) observes his younger self (Taylor Jay-Davies) through the cobwebs of time. The entire production is set within the cobwebbed, rat-infested Gothic drawing room at Satis House, the home of the Miss Havisham (Paula Wilcox) and the scene of her ill-fated wedding with the mouldy tiered cake remains, leaning to the point of collapse.
It is hard to not make the Burton-influenced assumptions, as even the eccentric characters are exaggerated by their mannerisms and clothing. Characters are seen entering the stage by crawling through holes in the walls or stomping over the long table, mantelpiece, or even through a mirror on the back wall. Many of the cast are ‘made-up’ with extreme white make up on their faces – again more Burton, less Dickens.
The stand out performances come from Chris Ellison (The Bill) as the convict Magwitch and Paula Wilcox (Man About The House) as the dark and damaged Miss Havisham. Rhys Warrington’s Herbert Pocket and Jack Ellis’s Jaggers also deserve praise for bringing their characters gloriously to life with wonderful moments of light and shade. But, there is no doubt that the biggest plaudits will come for the young Welsh actor who plays Pip, Taylor Jay-Davies, who carries the production with his brilliant portrayal of the character rising through social classes.
Great Expectations is a heavy dose of melodrama, but, it is also a daring and brave production that will introduce many to Dickens and ‘what larks they will have.’
Great Expectations is on now at Vaudeville Theatre, London. Tickets available via Shows in London.