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Great Expectations

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Jemima Levick-directed production gets a great many aspects right, which is why it’s all the more disappointing that a few don’t work.

Image of Great Expectations

@ Dundee Rep, until Sat 20 Jun 2015

Capping off the Rep’s revenge season is Jo Clifford’s adaptation of Charles Dickens Great Expectations directed by Jemima Levick. This understandably much streamlined version of Dickens’ classic focuses on the orphan Pip as he vies for the love of Estella while aspiring to join the upper-class.

One of the great things about any Dickens novel is the strength of the characterisation, his ability to create defined and vivid characters that have entered the popular zeitgeist. Sadly this characterization doesn’t quite transfer when put onto the stage. One reason for this might be due to the amount that had to be cut from the original story in order to fit the two plus hours runtime. What we’re left with is the bare bones of the story, when it’s the meat that all the flavour comes from. While many of Dickens’ characters are exaggerated and over the top (something the cast captures well in this production), one can’t help but feel that a more subdued and muted performance would have worked better with the dark gothic stylings of the play. It’s a shame really that these one or two things let down what is otherwise an excellent adaptation; as literally everything else works.

The simple yet effective set design of grungy old hanging frames that conceal a multitude of raised platforms accessed only by metal stairways evokes an era on the brink of the industrial revolution, when not only the nation is changing rapidly but also our lead, Pip. Even set alteration, when performers move the stairs to become a range of various props throughout the production, is done with effortless fluidity while the cast glide around the stage. Likewise with Pip’s costume changes that happen on stage or the particularly memorable ball scene, movement becomes key in this play and is excellently choreographed by Movement Director Emily-Jane Boyle.

Special note should be made of composer David Paul Jones’ combination of piano melodies with his own baritone vocals, as they are hauntingly beautiful, not only becoming one of the most memorable components of the play, but superbly adding to the gothic sensibilities of the production and encapsulating the sadness many of the characters feel. Great Expectations is worth seeing for Jones’ score alone.

Great Expectations really has got a great many aspects right, which is why it’s all the more disappointing that a few don’t work, especially considering the plays stunning finale.  Maybe leave the great expectations at home and bring the alright.