Great Expectations review at Merton Arts Space, London – ‘welcoming’
The Attic Theatre Company has been going for over 20 years – its last outing was with Beacons, a new play, at the Park Theatre – but Merton is its home and with Great Expectations it launches a new arts space at Wimbledon Library.
The choice is a suitable one for a seasonal show, especially as Dickens (Mr Victorian Christmas himself) had links with the borough. Besides, the community is very much involved, with young people putting on a response to the production and readers encouraged to discuss the novel.
The space is welcoming, the audience arranged around a circular acting area amid books on subjects from Health to Arts and Crafts. There is an ad hoc feel to it, but the lighting looks impressive and, in any case, an upgrade is on the cards.
Director Louise Hill and designers Anne Kezia Williams and Ziyue Gong (both students from Wimbledon College of Art) have cleverly embraced the bookish theme. Outsize volumes around the acting area house Joe Gargery’s tools or become furniture; library steps make a coach and window poles can be anything from weapons to walking sticks.
Tom Chapman is an appealing Pip and Carmen Rodriguez a statuesque Miss Havisham. Rhiannon Neads is both haughty Estella and warm Biddy. Hannah Boyde brings real character to the small role of Mrs Joe and Derek Howard switches neatly from Magwitch to Jaggers.
Theresa Heskins’ version is admirably concise, relying on storytelling by the cast. The downside of this is that the tone tends to lack dramatic highs and lows. Hill and her efficiently doubling cast have cracked the charm, but they need to go one step further away from the written word to let some of the melodrama rip.