Wednesday, 11 September 2002

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, MTC, Sept 11, 2002

Great Expectations  by Charles Dickens  adapted by Simon Phillips
Melbourne Theatre Company at Playhouse, Vic Arts Centre 
Sept 11 until 12 October, 2002
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The multiple narrative threads of Great Expectations are rich and the gallery of characters fascinating and hilarious.  Simon Phillips' adaptation wrests a viable stage script from Charles Dickens' extensive novel.

Its long chronology, countless eccentric characters and Victorian landscapes would terrify a more timorous heart. This complexity is difficult to translate into dramatic language and imagery. There are more threads than even four hours can comfortably handle. A more ruthless edit might help. 

Phillips' creates some magical and transformational images. People become horses and carriage, characters appear out of darkness, dank and forbidding London streets come alive. Some images, such as the burning of Miss Haversham,  fly by too quickly.

The emotional landscape is provided by Ian McDonald's  music that underscores and punctuates. The production is enhanced by Nick Schlieper's  complex and dramatic lighting that creates atmosphere and deep perspective.

Benjamin Winspear  as Pip  creates a believable youth growing from working class child to city gentleman. As Pip grows, Winspear displays the complex passion, craving and warmth of the man. Pip grows up with his comically feisty sister (Julie Forsyth) and her kindly blacksmith husband played with great warmth by Richard Piper. 

He is privileged and tormented by his regular visits to the eccentric Miss Haversham (Angela Punch McGregor)  and her cold-hearted adoptive niece, Estella  (Sam Healy) whom he loves hopelessly. 

Punch McGregor's almost spider-like portrayal of Miss Haversham is compelling, capturing impeccably the jilted woman's grief, despair and remorse. Healy  is competent as the provocative, cold Estella but lacks intensity.

Pip's life changed radically when a mysterious benefactor catapults him into the life of a gentleman. Jonathan Hardy  is rivetting as Jaggers,  the surly lawyer who manages Pip's patronage.

 Linal Haft  as Pip's convict benefactor, Magwitch,  is powerful and Huw Higginson  plays a charming, quirky Wemmick.

A parade of vivid, hilarious characters are played with finesse by the ensemble. There is an enormous amount of action and innumerable characters in this story.  Dale Ferguson's  design is architectural and at times a little inflexible but allows a flow of action on stairs and balconies.

Great Expectations is an epic that is successful in the great part but is a little unwieldy and unmoving.

By Kate Herbert

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