Great Expectations Meets Expectations ★★★☆☆

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It would be wrong of me to say that I didn’t enjoy TG’s latest theatrical endeavour. With Theatre Group’s current penchant for classic literature and adaptation, Great Expectations is the follow up to the likes of Mephistopheles, Lear and Macbeth in this recurring trend.

The space was used inventively in the sequences performed in the Annex foyer. I particularly enjoyed the use of Once Upon A December as the instrumental for the ball as it gave the proceedings a more ethereal and magical quality. However, although the choice made the experience fully immersive, the immediate presence of the actors amongst the audience in the interval meant that what is usually a reprieve was still quite distracting as we found ourselves waiting for the characters to come to life.

Stand out performances amongst the cast came from James Forster (Jaggers), Alexander Curtis (Magwitch) and Ashleigh Clowes (Estella). Forster successfully brought what had the potential to be a very dry and unappealing character to life in an unexpectedly funny fashion. The childlike quality of Clowes’ Estella meant that, as the character grew, she sustained Estella’s coldness whilst never becoming actively abhorrent. Curtis’ Magwitch was a breath of fresh air throughout what is a rather emotionally intense show and his final scene very nearly brought tears to my eyes.

Special mention must go to Alice Walsh who was tasked with kindling the iconic character of Miss Havisham. Although not at all what I expected from the character upon entering the theatre, I was happily surprised to find myself engaged and sympathising with this frail and waif-like individual put before me. However, greater projection would possibly be helpful, as I found myself straining to hear her more intimate moments from my seat near the back.

Issues arose for me in a few areas. The set changes were frequent and occasionally clunky. The amount of motion on-stage in order to change location whilst the audience’s attention was (I assume) meant to be on the character speaking was often distracting and visually confusing. In addition, props from previous scenes were left on-stage in conspicuous locations that meant they were quite difficult to ignore. Projection amongst the ensemble was generally good, but the diction often faltered in places. The use of the projected images onto the backdrop seemed somewhat arbitrary and the significance of the butterfly went completely over my head. One seemingly small detail that none the less left me slightly speechless was the moment a baby is passed between Biddy and Joe and the blankets seemed to crumple where the baby’s head should have been! My biggest criticism however was Miss Havisham’s final scene. It was very well performed, but the method by which it was put to the stage I found to be a massive anti climax.

Fight scenes were very well choreographed and had me wincing and flinching in my seat. I was also particularly fond of the musical accompaniment to the show. It was very well suited and emotionally engaged me at unexpected moments throughout. There was a significant improvement in the quality of the show as it moved into Act 2.

On the whole, I was not blown away by Great Expectations. There were some fantastic individual performances, and it was predominantly enjoyable, but there were also a number of kinks that have yet to be ironed out. An enjoyable evening.

Great Expectations is in The Annex Theatre, it ends its run on Saturday 17th November with a performance at 2:30 and 7:30. Tickets are sold at the Box Office or on the door – £6.50 and £5 for those with a Performing Arts card.

 

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16 Comments

  1. avatar
    disagreeing audience member on

    I thought (Pip) the lead character was exceptional seeing as he was off stage for about 1 minute during the entire performance. A bit odd that you have failed to notice him.

  2. avatar
    Agreeing with the disagreeing audience member on

    Hear hear, Pip was excellent. Quite bizarre that you have written a reasonably detailed review of a play without once mentioning the lead character.

  3. avatar

    A couple of little points to pick up from, here.
    I think that the paragraph about stand-out performances coming from Magwitch, Jaggers and Estella is bang on the mark, and agree with much of what you have to say here, though not necessarily the manner in which it is delivered at times.
    I would have loved to have seen more out of Miss Havisham, as it’s such an iconic character that it is difficult to go in as an audience member and not expect big things from the actress playing that part. Whilst Alice Walsh’s was no doubt a solid performance, it was not a very adventurous one, which was a pity.
    I have to agree with the comment below that the boy playing Pip deserved a mention here – I thought his energy and commitment was admirable, and his development was fantastic.
    I also picked up on some of the technical hitches and the numerous set changes often being clunky. Where the creative ideas behind the show were at times inspired, the technical direction was clearly put lower on the production team’s list of priorities, which is evident throughout the show. I think it’d be unfair to pin a lack of preparation on the technical side of things on the cast, many of whom were playing multiple roles and were on and off stage throughout the play. The buck has to fall with the production team on that one.
    Lastly, to any reader who haven’t seen this show yet, I’d just like to tell you how much I enjoyed it! It was really brilliant and there are a lot of great performances, especially from some of the supporting roles like Joe and Pumblechook in the countryside and Jaggers and (a female?!) Wemmick in London.

  4. avatar

    Any review that completely ignores the lead character, especially one as ubiquitous throughout the show as Pip, is a bad review. Just saying. It’s like reviewing Forrest Gump without mentioning Tom Hanks.

    Also, the fact that the majority of the review is dedicated to minor technical imperfections shows a lack of appreciation for the fact that this was a student production, not a professional production. In fact, the scarce mentions given to the actors in general seem to be, generally, perfunctory, lacking in my real analysis and ancillary to the overall aim: pointing out that it didn’t run quite as smoothly from a technical perspective as it could have done.

    Overall, a fairly poor review, if not one utterly lacking in merit. She did at least recognise some of the shows merits, even if that recognition only served to feed into the overall conclusion that, shockingly enough, it wasn’t perfect. This would be fair enough for a professional show, but in a student production it just comes off as petty and small minded. I would suggest that this reviewer cannot see the wood for the trees, but it seems quite likely that she cannot see the trees either.

    Show- 4 stars
    Review- 2 stars

    • avatar

      Ashleigh is merely sharing her opinion on elements of the show that stood out to her. What YOU might like, she doesn’t like. Respect opinions for what they are – opinions. We don’t all share the same one for a reason.

      I do appreciate your review of the review though. Maybe you should actually come out and be brave enough to write some reviews yourself instead of calling reviewers petty and small minded?

      • avatar

        I have done, Cally, and from a reviewer’s perspective I think this review is wanting. As an assessment, I think that the comment above mine from KT is far more valid and balanced. I just found it odd that the main character was omitted completely and found it objectionable that so much weight was given to the technical side of the show and so relatively little to the rest.

        She is more than entitled to give the show three stars, It’s a perfectly reasonable grade to give it, but do it for the right reasons. I don’t not disagree with her opinion per se, but with the way it was expressed and with the undue focus on minor details that, given the circumstances, should be given far less weight when determining a rating. Again, in professional theatre or a RADA show, this would be okay, but some quarter has to be given when dealing with amateur students. I’ve seen a fair few Theatre Group shows and none runs perfectly every time, but you just have to take it with a pinch of salt and see the big picture a little more. Hence the wood for the trees comment.

        • avatar

          That was just how Ashleigh saw it. Maybe she wasn’t entirely impressed with the lead actor as she was with others, thus he doesn’t get a mention.

          The technical side is quite important in this instance, especially with the use and movement of props, the projection on the screen and other areas she felt lacking. No one wants to read a biased review of praise – she’s picked out the negatives which just so happen to be technical.

          If the show can be taken with a pinch of salt so can this review.

          • avatar

            In which case mention that he wasn’t impressive. That would be fair if it was the case. Do not, however, just gloss over him: he is very important to the show. This is what I mean, she omits more important issues that could possibly result in a well-deserved three star review, one that could be wholly justified, in favour of trifling little imperfections. On this basis, the basis of minor imperfections, she is willing to possibly quite adversely effect the show’s box office and cast a pall over the entire cast. That is why an unbalanced, pedantic review can’t be taken with a pinch of salt, because it can do genuine harm for little or no reason.

            if she had genuine problems with the show, then that’s fine, but the technical aspects are not the show: not really. Artistic criticism, criticism of the performances, the direction or the choices made as to staging would be fine. Focussing in on what amounts to a natural side effect of amateur dramatics? That’s cheap, and easy, and unnecessary, and ultimately doesn’t really say that much about the show because they can be easily remedied after opening night. It’s a matter of balance, and any review that fails to mention the lead character in any way, but dedicates an extended paragraph to how a few props were left on stage is, like In said, just a shoddy review. Again, this is not criticism of the star rating, or the opinion held by her, but of the review itself.

            I know you disagree with me, and that’s fine, but that’s my two cents. Her opinions are her own and she is entitled to them, but a badly written, unbalanced review is another thing altogether. If someone submitted an album review that didn’t mention a single song name or include any musical analysis, but did criticise the quality of the recording, it would be a bad review. On the same basis, this review is just not very good, even if this review is not quite so extreme.

            Anyway, I want to leave this be now because enough has been said. I have no particular vested interest, I just felt the review was not a true reflection of the show. For one thing, there’s a little guy name Pip in it… he’s kind of a big deal.

          • avatar

            It’s unjust to call this review badly written just because you disagree with how she constructs it. If you did it you would have included different things, as would I, that’s just the way it works.

            I’m the editor of this section so I’m going to naturally stick up for my writers. The example you give is a pretty inadequate one – if the quality of the recording was bad it would warrant a mention would it not? Ashleigh has mentioned things that stood out to her.

            We all have opinions for a reason, I don’t care if you disagree with Ashleigh, I just don’t like a review to be called badly written because you disagree with the points that were raised.

  5. avatar
    Comments Reader on

    Having read a number of reviews of student theatre shows here on oth the Wessex Scene and the Edge, it seems abundantly clear that the people responsible seem to be completely unable to accept any form of criticism. I never see any negative comments made of good reviews but there’s always a rush of reviews condemning whomever dare say bad things of your plays. Wouldn’t you rather have honesty to help you improve in your field than non-stop, unrealistic praise? As it is, this website and the Tab seem to give out a lot more 4 and 5* reviews than any other publication I’ve read…

    • avatar

      Completely agree, it’s pathetic.
      Reviews are subjective, that is a fact.
      What would be the point of writing purely positive reviews of productions that are performed to Southampton Students purely because they ARE performed by Southampton Students; this is a review site, not a press release. People don’t get up in arms when a album is reviewed badly.
      To the people who have criticised Ashleigh’s review; get a grip, learn to take some criticism and keep the unremitted priase to the adverts, not the analysis.

  6. avatar

    I read this review earlier today and, as I was planning to see the show this evening, thought I’d withold judgement and post something after I’d seen it, if I felt I could add anything to the discussion.
    Firstly, I do think a few Theatre Group members have reacted a bit over defensively to this review, which actually has some lovely things to say. I also think that a couple of the criticisms made by Ashliegh are valid, if not very well-put.
    Anyway, I can now throw in my two cents and say a huge “congratulations!” to the cast and production team, who have put together a fantastic show which is well worth the money for the entertainment you get in return. Picking up on the points made in the article, and a few of the points made in the comments, I have the following to say:
    1) That Chris Barlow deserves some kind words for what was an engaging and enchanting performance!
    2) That the parts of Magwitch and Jaggers were also excellently played (and I think I might have a weird crush on Magwitch after seeing this adaptation..)
    3) That, while I thought both lead females (Estella and Miss Havasham) did a great job, elements of their performance felt a bit lacking at times – it would have made the show all the more memorable had Havasham been more adventurously played.
    4) Leading on from this, there were a few blips with regards to the casting, but on the whole the cast did a steller job and seemed to work very well together. As far as the smaller parts go, I agree that Pumblechook and Joe deserve a mention, as well as Wopsle and Wemmick, whose characters were excellently reinvented by Laura Ellis and Lucy Hughes. Bit cheeky, but I’m going to go ahead and say that the latter might have been better used in a bigger role.. Oh, and Herbert! Why has no one mentioned Herbert?!
    5) The scene changes went off without many glitches, and I never found them distracting. A few props were left on stage at a couple of points, but the mistakes were negligable. Maybe that side of things improved after last night.
    6) The fight scenes were a highlight.

    If you’re reading this and considering going to see the show, go and see it! I enjoyed it much more than I expected to! I hope it’s ok that I’ve sort of used this comment to write my own mini review :/

  7. avatar

    I’m just commenting so I can click the “notify me of followup comments” box because I have a lot of Uni work to do and reading these comments is great procrastination and I didn’t click it the first time around. I still have nothing of any substance to add to the argument. Please don’t hold your collective breath for anything grand from me in the near future, either.

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