In the Dickens bicentenary year, this is a bold and original reworking of one of his best-loved works, using every trick in the director’s book to mostly good effect.
Taylor Jay-Davies (Young Pip) and Brian Pettifer (Wemmick) in Great Expectations at Richmond Theatre Photo: Alastair Muir
For starters it is blessedly short at two hours, 15 minutes, so Jo Clifford has worked hard to compress the great writer’s often indigestible prose. Clifford’s adaptation is filmic in nature, with quickfire exchanges unfolding in swift succession. Since most of us know the story backwards it is the presentation rather than the narrative that needs to grab our attention.
And this it does. Though there is only the one set - Miss Havisham’s sumptuous dining room - it is imaginatively deployed by director Graham McLaren, with actors leaping up on to tables, cowering behind the furniture, and in one case declaiming rather precariously from the grand mantelpiece.
There are two Pips, a middle-aged one (Paul Nivison) who narrates the story from the sidelines, and a young one (Taylor Jay-Davies, rather good) who does all the work. As you might expect, Clifford and McLaren have stripped the story to the bone, so pedants may be left wanting. One unfortunate side effect of this is that some characters - notably Wopsle, Drummle, Jaggers, Mrs Joe and Herbert Pocket - are reduced to screeching caricature.
Others such as Joe Gargery (Steve North), Magwitch (Chris Ellison) and Wemmick (Brian Pettifer) are favoured with more traditional credibility, while Miss Havisham and Estella make a suitably spooky double act as portrayed by Paula Wilcox and Grace Rowe.
This isn’t everybody’s cup of tea but I admired the audacity of its execution, even if the directorial conceits didn’t always do justice to the narrative.