Thursday, August 28, 2014

Theatre: Great Expectations

By Charles Dickens
Adapted by Nick Ormerod and Declan Donnellan
Directed by Andrew Lewis
Performed by WAAPA 3rd Year Acting students
Geoff Gibbs Theatre
Until August 28

It’s unsurprising that those two mighty epics of relentless pursuit and ultimate redemption, Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, are contemporaneous (the English novel was published in 1861; the other a year later). Neither is it surprising that both were instant and enormous successes, nor that they have generated many successful adaptations, across artforms, in the subsequent century-and-a-half.
This year’s WAAPA Acting graduating class performs the adaptation of Great Expectations by Cheek By Jowl’s Mick Ormerod and Declan Donnellan, first staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2005. It’s a wise choice.

An orphan, Pip (Adam Sollis), helps an escaped convict Magwitch (Aleks Mikić) he encounters in the marshes by which he lives with his sister (Alex Malone) and her husband, the kindly blacksmith Joe Gargery (Jonny Hawkins).
Pip visits the wealthy spinster Miss Havisham (Alexis Lane), and falls in love with her haughty ward, Estella (Emma Diaz). He receives a large sum from a mysterious benefactor, who he assumes is Miss Havisham, on the condition he relocates to London and become a gentleman. The consequences of all this are well known.
The principles manage their roles effectively (Stephanie Tsindos as the stalwart Biddy, Jane Watt as the lawyer Jaggers, Harry Richardson as Pip’s friend Herbert, Alexander Frank as Magwitch’s enemy Compeyson and Liam Maguire as the brutal Orlick are among the others). There’s an inevitable issue with age differences in most WAAPA productions, but it’s easy to live with here.
The great virtue of Ormerod and Donnellan’s treatment is its use of the whole cast as a chorus to provide Dickens’ first-person narrative. It’s an energetic, entertaining device that keeps all the cast on stage throughout and gives each of them solid opportunities. It offers fine practical experience in ensemble acting for the students, which attracted WAAPA’s Andrew Lewis, who directs this production with easy control.
This is a wonderful, powerful and sad story, always worth revisiting, and it’s enjoyable to do so with young actors who, on this showing, can hurl themselves into the jaws of their precarious profession next year with great expectations.

This review appeared in The West Australian 27.8.14        

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