Touring – reviewed at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford
At the heart of Tilted Wig’s new version of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations is the real box of delights that is James Turner’s set design. Endlessly practical (much needed for a touring show) and versatile in its use of space, I reckon it could either be marketed to IKEA for its storage solutions or to the London housing market as a bijou starter home.
Frivolity aside, it really does epitomise the playfulness of Sophie Boyce Couzens’ production which uses a cast of eight, plus a musician, to depict the coming-of-age of young Philip Pirrip with an elegant take on its theatrical invention.
The focus is on storytelling – narrative interjections split between the company, the switch between the multiple characters they all play evoked with simple but effective change of an accent or hat or suchlike.
And what Ken Bentley’s adaptation has to work very little to achieve, is to show us how much this classic novel still resonates with contemporary society. The divide between rich and poor, the inherent snobbery of those in positions of power, the way injustices land disproportionately on those in poverty, the transformative power of love.
Séan Aydon’s Pip proves a compelling focal point. Unafraid to show the occasional unpleasant notes of a young man buffeted by immense change (London will change a person so…), the relationships he creates sparkle with life. From the understated beauty of his emotional connection to Edward Ferrow’s Joe, to the deep friendship with James Camp’s Herbert, to the intense ferocity of Isla Carter’s Estella.
She of course has been weaponised by the inimitable Miss Havisham, played here with disquieting subtlety by a mesmerisingly hollowed-out Nichola McAuliffe in her faded lace. And multi-instrumentalist Ollie King’s compositions keep a slight sense of unease in the air that befits the torrent of events packed in here.
Bentley and Boyce Couzens perhaps pack in a little too much, especially as the running time nears its third hour, but in its emotional forthrightness and playful theatricality, this is one to watch out for.