With Charles Dickens Great Expectations comes… great expectation. With an audience predominantly made up of students and parents there was a muttering of expectation for this lively ensemble of talented actors and their adaptation.
Fine performances are showcased by the classic, if repetitive, Pip, Miss Havisham, Estella and Magwitch, the characters we could recall in a round of Pointless, but it is the lesser known characters, the extras, that this version boasts.
There was a chorus, a new addition of an old tradition, the biggest change in this Dickens adaptation. They lay sprawled at the feet of Mrs Havisham, they gathered beside Mrs Joe as she took her last breath and stood in the shadows of the graveyard. Ignore the idea they were simply there to create more parts for a large ensemble and they soon became a part of the story. But other than the spontaneous chanting and relaying of descriptive narrative the first act was all too comparable to that of the past. Much alike Mrs Havisham, the story got stuck in the same moment, but like what occurs in the story, with the second act came the realisation that we must move on and make changes.
Everything is better in London, interpret that as you wish, but it certainly was in the second act. There it was exciting; there were smoke, violence, a boat chase, and an appearance by a camp tailor. With these talented young actors finishing university and descending on their London, to make something of themselves, this coming of age story set in early Victorian England has remained novel. The words do not falter and nor should they be altered.
Is there a happily ever after for them, for Pip and Estella that is. It is in those familiar words and recognisable images that we have come to anticipate them walking away hand in hand, rather than shaking hands. The expectation wasn’t of romance, there were of course the broken hearts and lost promises, but of friendships, like that of Pip and Herbert Pocket who was notably exceptional, that made this adaptation fitting. A well thought out directional decision to incorporate the old and the new with Dickens alternate ending, a now very modern way of storytelling.
Do I find much changed? No, it is an adaptation that remains familiar, but do the audience expect something so unlike what we have come to know or do we expect Great Expectations?
Here’s to your great expectations the students of Bath Spa.