Great Expectations: West End premiere is 'pure theatre'

Feb 19, 2013

'Spectacular' adaptation translates the spirit and humanity of Dickens's classic novel to the stage

Great Expectations at the Vaudeville Theatre, West End, London

What you need to know
A stage version of Charles Dickens's novel Great Expectations has opened at the Vaudeville Theatre in London's West End. Graham McLaren directs Scottish playwright Jo Clifford's adaptation.

Blacksmith's boy Pip is transformed into a London gentleman with the aid of a mysterious benefactor. But even as Pip's fortunes rise, he is haunted by his love for the beautiful, unattainable Estella whom he visited at Miss Havisham's house as a child.

Paul Nivison stars as adult Pip and Paula Wilcox (Chrissie from the 1970s TV hit Man about the House) plays Estella's ghoulish guardian Miss Havisham. Jack Ellis appears as Pip's lawyer Jaggers and Chris Ellison as the convict Magwitch. Runs until 1 June.

What the critics like
Jo Clifford's version of Great Expectations shrugs off the many screen adaptations to create "pure theatre", says Libby Purves in The Times. Clifford wisely drops several strands from the novel, but the heart is there, and "the culmination thrilling".

Graham McLaren's production is "a resounding success," says Tim Walker in the Daily Telegraph. It communicates, in two hours and 20 minutes, "the spirit and humanity of the novel" but also "works as a stand-alone piece of drama".

This Great Expectations is "a spectacular affair", says Tamara Vos for the Londonist. It's a "Tim Burton-esque take" on a classic, with an original score, an onstage fire, and "the set is absolutely stunning".

What they don't like
It's an "inventive" production, but one that "sells Dickens's great novel dismayingly short", says Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph. The bones of the story are there and there are "gripping passages" but "the narrative often seems hurried and the characterisation crude".

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