I recently visited the marvellous Bristol Old Vic to watch an ominous new production of Great Expectations. Adapted and directed by Neil Bartlett, the show presents a truly Stygian depiction of Dickens’ tale of a young boy’s unconventional ascent into adulthood, with a touch of humour for good measure…
Perhaps the most striking component of the show was the staging, particularly effective due to the use of smoke to recreate the fog of the Essex marshland, and later the murky smog of London. Combined with the vast depth of stage this gave the impression of a barren wasteland, hostile and threatening to the characters and audience. In an interesting display of chiaroscuro, the darkness was counteracted by different uses of light; when the police were searching for convicts on the marsh, their flashes of torchlight provided only fleeting glimpses into the looming darkness.
Adjoa Andoh’s portrayal of Miss Haversham was magnificent, her use of walking sticks giving her the appearance of a haggard spider crawling desperately across the stage. The show successfully drew on Dickens’ animal imagery in the novel, as Laura Rees’ fierce portrait of Estella swooped coldly across the stage like a bird of prey grasping a flickering candle. Pip’s transition from boy to man was also played out excellently by Tom Canton, who coincidentally looks like a cross between Peter Serafinowicz and Matthew from Downton (RIP).
The use of microphones to enhance certain lines was an interesting choice. In many ways, this worked well to draw attention to particular words, but I can’t help thinking some of these line choices seemed a bit random and weakened the overall effect. However, the use of sound was generally well executed, particularly with other sound effects. The adaptation relied heavily on the senses and the imagination; minimal props were used, but this allowed more room for interpretation. For example, several scenes were played out using tables on wheels, which could be latched swiftly together to create a boat or dining table.
The show was fantastic, with strong performances from all cast members. With a taste of Dickensian humour to take the edge off, and a dazzlingly disturbing ‘fire scene’, it is well worth a watch. You can see it at Bristol Old Vic until 2nd November. Tickets are £10.
All photos courtesy of Bristol Old Vic.