Watermill Theatre, Newbury – until 2 July 2022
Found on the outskirts of Newbury in Berkshire, the Watermill Theatre has been an established venue since 1967 and has grown in popularity since it first opened its doors. With the fast-flowing stream of water running underneath the building, you can watch it flow as you walk through into the main theatre auditorium and you can see the disused watermill still on display. The theatre is surrounded by beautifully maintained gardens next to the river, with an abundance of idyllic qualities to make a trip to the theatre feel even more magical.
Anthology Theatre productions and David Wolstencroft have adapted the BBC Radio 4 comedy production Bleak Expectations and bought it to the stage. Its cast of nine brings many of the famous Charles Dickens characters to life with a twist away from their usual narrative surroundings.
Narrator Nicholas Murchie, in the role of older and wiser Pip who is now Sir Pip Bin, explains the family’s tale of riches to rags and returns to riches which are marred with death, heartbreak and evil wrongdoings. The two younger sisters Poppy Bin (Caitlin Scott) and Agnes Bin (Alicia Mckenzie) throw in many points about the inequality women faced at the time. We watch as the Dickensian novels are entwined together while Pip from Great Expectations remains the focal protagonist.
The cast of nine transition quickly between the range of characters within the storyline and prepare to suspend your disbelief when the actor who plays Pip’s Mother (Mckenzie) at one point is very briefly married to him in another role, adding to the comedic pathway which runs throughout the performance.
Bleak Expectations is humorous, bawdy and has many particularly well-scripted comedic moments. The comedy relies heavily on the audience’s engagement and it’s an absolute delight to watch the cast appearing to enjoy the play as much as the audience.
I was suitably impressed by the tower of books stacked to the lefthand side of the stage. When it was first used as part of the performance as a ladder to get to the top of the stage I felt a “hold my breath in” moment as it honestly doesn’t look that safe. Although I wouldn’t mind trying it out.
Being familiar with many of Dickens’ characters to start with is quite useful in a multilayered play such as this one although it’s certainly not a prerequisite when it comes to enjoying it.
Director Caroline Leslie has successfully given Bleak Expectations a new platform in which audiences can watch and enjoy some of their favourite characters from the radio production come to life on the stage.
For more information about Bleak Expectations, future productions and ticket sales please use the link below.
Photo credit Pamela Raith.