Literary dangers can lurk in any adaptation of a revered work but within minutes of the start of this excellent production - the final Main House offering of the theatre’s summer season - it is clear that Neil Bartlett has chosen skilfully the parts of this great novel to dramatise, discarding much of Dickens’ episodic padding and moving the action on, scene by scene, with a few carefully chosen lines of dialogue.
Maggie Tagney, George Banks and Zoe Mills in Great Expectations at Theatre by the Lake, Keswick Photo: Keith Pattison
The two stories which emerge are linked by the clever use of members of the company as chorus in addition to most also playing multiple roles. That this is neither confusing or illogical is due to director Ian Forrest’s control of his subject and his actors’ clever use of mime and gesture to move the two stories forward. Designer Martin Johns, composer Richard Atkinson and lighting designer Nick Beadle set the scene for us before a word is spoken, allowing the players to mesmerise us with some inspired performances.
George Banks is a tremendous Pip, moving from straight narration as a grown man, then as bewildered child, arrogant youth and finally a compassionate adult. James Duke is a fearsome Magwitch. Maggie Tagney gives the scheming Miss Havisham a spider-like quality, weaving her web of revenge on the captive Estella, icily but beautifully played by Zoe Mills. But the performances of all the eight-strong cast are excellent - this is ensemble theatre at its best. Only the very last scene, too drawn out, mars an otherwise superb production to celebrate Dickens’ bicentenary celebrations.