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.