Kicking off this year’s National Youth Theatre REP season, Neil Bartlett’s take on Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations is an engaging if unadventurous adaptation.
Bartlett’s script takes in all the necessary beats while peppering the dialogue with insightful, often amusing asides that efficiently sketch out the supporting character’s backstories.
Director Mumba Dodwell gives it a brisk treatment, with busy crowd scenes suddenly surging in to fill the space, before withdrawing to leave Joseph Payne’s endearingly innocent Pip bewildered and alone, grinning nervously as he tells his story.
Though the tone wobbles between affable naturalism and overwrought archness, there are some undeniably strong performers amongst the cast. Tiwalade Ibirogba Olulode’s decadent Havisham cuts a suitably macabre figure, lounging in a rusted wheelchair draped in rotting lace, radiating exhausted disdain but breaking into a ferocious grin when she senses her victim’s weakness. As Estella, Alice Franziska skilfully conveys the journey from cruel child to callous adult, keeping a glimmer of warmth alive behind her cold façade.
Jemima Mayala’s charismatic convict Magwitch feels convincingly complicated, wrestling with paranoia and a violent temper while holding on to life’s infrequent opportunities for kindnesses.
Judicious use of a few resonantly gothic sound cues from composer Tom Gimson help heighten the mood, with jangling strings trilling over ominous piano chords at key moments.
Hannah Wolfe’s set consists of a thrusting catwalk of course black cinders and glittery fragments of powdered glass, bookended with heavy damask drapes, the clashing textures suggesting the dissimilar worlds Pip finds himself pulled between.