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Great Expectations review at the Old Red Lion Theatre, London – ‘funny and gripping’

Joshua Asare as Pip in Great Expectations at Old Red Lion. Joshua Asare as Pip in Great Expectations at Old Red Lion
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Writer and director Tom Crowley’s felicitous 21st century adaptation of Great Expectations turns Dickens’ beefy Bildungsroman into two hours of funny, gripping theatre, staged with inventive economy in the petite confines of the Old Red Lion.

The set comprises simple white shelving units that suggest the interiors of Pip’s cramped council flat in Kent and the swanky London apartment into which he moves when bestowed, by an unnamed benefactor, with a bulging bank account and a full scholarship to study law at LSE. Tables on casters neatly, though noisily, differentiate between scenes.

The cast, most playing double roles, are excellent. As Pip, Joshua Asare winningly modulates from uncertain youth with an Estuary twang to patrician Pimlico student, beset by ambition and self-doubt. Maryam Grace plays the enigmatically frosty Estella and unaffected Biddy with wonderful freshness, while Peter Wicks’ Bentley Drummle carries the air of effortless superiority and boundless arrogance perennially fostered by the English public school system.

He’s also oafish Orlick, here reimagined as a sexually resentful colleague of Pip’s police sergeant mother Jo Gargery (Sarah Thom). As Miss Havisham, Thom boldly pushes the Gothic grotesquery. Full of clever detail (Magwitch is Polish mercenary Magwycz), this is thoughtful, witty theatre.

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Superbly-performed adaptation of Dickens’ tale raises pertinent questions about wealth and class