December 18, 2005

Great Expectations at the RST in Stratford

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Nick Omerod and Declan Donnellan’s new adaptation of ‘Great Expectations’ has not, so far, received very complimentary reviews. As a fan of the novel, I decided to go and see the play for myself. After a slow and somewhat confused beginning, I felt that the performance improved significantly as it progressed. Part of this was due to the time it took to adjust to the unusual form of the dialogue. Most of the actors remained on stage throughout the performance and all contributed to the formation of Pip’s conscience. As well as sharing his lines, they also represented his thoughts and fears. In places, this was really effective and worked well.

As well as in the divining of the dialogue, the production also relied heavily on the imagination of the audience in its sparse use of props and costume. As a dramatization of a very bleak novel, it would seem inappropriate to employ elaborate decoration and furnishings. It therefore seemed fitting to signify place symbolically by the use of one or two stage props. For instance, a desk aptly represented Jaggers office, and a table that held the decaying wedding cake symbolized Miss Haversham’s house.

Throughout the performance, most of the actors played their roles convincingly. I was slightly disappointed with the lack of passion Pip expressed but was especially impressed by the haughtiness the young Estella managed to convey, and by the inner fury of Magwitch.

With the choice of endings, I was interested to see which the producers would decide upon. I won’t spoil it now but I will say that, after the tone of the rest of the performance, I was slightly surprised at their decision.

All in all, I would recommend the play as well worth seeing. I would advise, however, not to hold out hopes that it will be as good as many of the RSC performances of Shakespearean dramas.

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