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Brisbane review - Great Expectations: engages and holds audience interest

By Lilian Harrington

 

Production: Great Expectations

By: Charles Dickens /Adaptation Janys Chambers

Company: Villanova Players

Director:  Jill Cross

Location: Ron Hurley Theatre 28 Tallowood St. Seven Hills

Season: 8 - 17 March

 



Great Expectations by English writer Charles Dickens is one of the most popular classics from the Victorian era. It was made into a film, and adapted for stage. It was written as a serial for Dickens’s monthly periodical “All The Year Round”. Chamber’s stage interpretation captures all the main characters in the story. It’s narrated in the first person, either by a Chorus, or by Pip (Lachlan Gregory Hugh) an orphan, who’s being reared by his older sister, the strict Mrs Joe Gargery (Helen Ekundayo), and husband Joe Gargery (Ian Stevenson), a blacksmith. It’s a tough and modest upbringing and Pip will become apprenticed to Joe once he’s of age. Whilst visiting the local graveyard where his parents were buried, he encounters an escaped convict Magwitch (Trevor Bond) , Pip’s kindness to Magwitch, when he brings him food and a file to free himself from his chains, doesn’t go unnoticed and later Pip becomes the unwitting recipient of Magwitch’s fortune.

A relative, Pumblechook (Gary Kliger) introduces him to the very wealthy and eccentric Miss Havisham (Kathy Manning) , after she requests a playmate for her adopted daughter Estelle (Emily Summer ) who she’s raising in rather strange circumstances in her old house, where all time has stopped since she was jilted at the altar. Even the uneaten wedding cake remains on the table, along with the old wedding dress she still wears, and a house full of cobwebs.  Pip falls in love with the icy Estelle, who’s been taught to break men’s hearts and to show no love or mercy (“a legacy” from   Miss Havisham).

Pip (Lachlan Gregory Hugh) learns from the lawyer Jaggers, (Gary Kliger ),that he’s come into a large fortune through a secret benefactor; thinking the money was gifted from Miss Havisham he moves to London and lives a gentleman’s life  with Herbert Pocket, (Dean Noffke), who becomes Pip’s mentor. When his benefactor, Abel Magwitch, finally reveals himself to the shocked Pip, who realises at last  who’s helped him move up in society, he wastes no time to help Magwitch who is now in danger to escape.

Director Jill Cross has designed a simple set, movement and costume, so the action flows smoothly from one scene to the next. The cast help to create scene changes, while the overhead video images set the scene along with quick set and lighting cues.  Pip makes needed costume changes onstage, which facilitates the action. The use of a Chorus to sing or narrate the action is effective, but at times it could be clearer and more audible.

The large cast have multiple roles and support the leads. Pip (Lachlan Gregory Hugh) captures his   innocence and vulnerability, while Estelle (Emily Summers) gives a very cold and controlled performance in her beautifully costumed gowns. She showed a good development of character  when she moved from young Estelle, to a confident woman in society, and later as one who had suffered abuse from a controlling husband; her final meeting with Pip showed understanding and left viewers wondering.

Supporting characters like Biddy (Mady Flatters), hidden under her hat, gave a genuine, thoughtful,    performance , she’d  remained behind to look after Joe Gargery ( Ian Stevenson) . Gary Kliger (Jaggers), has a strong stage presence; he’s cleverly considered each case on behalf of his complex clients. Opening night nerves showed at times with some supporting characters  who lacked a degree of confidence and consistency in places, however, Great Expectations is a most engaging play which holds audience interest.

 

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