Watermill - Great Expectations
29th September to 5th November 2011.
Review from Newbury Theatre.
On the Watermill’s tiny stage, how to convey the blacksmith’s forge, Miss Havisham’s large rambling house, the streets, offices, lodgings and river of London? Designer Laura McEwen’s answer was with what might have been a segment of a huge water wheel, adorned with books, bottles, bells, birdcages, baskets, buckets and lots of other things not necessarily beginning with B. The relevance may not always have been clear, but it made a striking statement – an imaginative introduction to an imaginative production.
Orphaned Pip is brought up by his scary sister (a strong performance from Emma Beatty in this and two other roles) and her ineffectual blacksmith husband (Russell Layton). Summoned to the house of mysterious Miss Havisham, he is humiliated by her pretty daughter Estella. After receiving a large amount of money, Pip moves to London where he tries to win over Estella.
Edward Hancock was perfect as a fresh-faced, innocent Pip, turning into a world-weary squanderer of his fortune as he matured and tried to impress Estella (Mabel Jones). Kazia Pelka was a batty but benign middle-aged Miss Havisham, less fierce and old than I expected, but still purposeful and manipulative.
As well as doubling up on the parts, the rest of the cast also provided sound effects and, from time to time, a sort of sycophantic Greek chorus. This all worked well on the small stage, although the touches of humour gave me a disconcerting reminder of Radio 4’s comedy series Bleak Expectations.
As Pip and Estella are reunited at the end, Estella’s plea, “tell me we are friends” gets an enigmatic response, leaving the audience to decide whether he’s going to kiss her or hit her.
Neil Bartlett’s adaptation was admirably clear; the production was always interesting and absorbing, and the large school party in the audience seemed entranced by it. It deserved a better response than the rather muted applause at the end.
Review from the Newbury Weekly News.
Kazia Pelka brings a fresh interpretation to Miss Havisham at The Watermill
Great Expectations, at the Watermill, from Thursday, September 29 to Saturday, November 5
Laura McEwen's atmospheric set filled with a pot-pourri of lanterns, birdcages and clocks on a huge semi-circular floor-to-ceiling shelving is beguiling.
The complex plot begins dramatically when young Pip, superbly played by Edward Hancock, encounters the enigmatic escaped convict, Magwitch, powerfully performed by Stephen Finegold and helps him break free of his chains and flee. Little did he know that this chance meeting would change his life forever.
The orphaned Pip lives with his cruel, overbearing sister Mrs Joe (Emma Beattie) and her blacksmith husband, the kind, sympathetic Joe Gargery (Russell Layton).
His uncle, Mr Pumblechook (Jed Aukin), brings Pip good news and an introduction to the spinster Miss Havisham, where he is to go and play with her niece, the proud, pretty yet selfish Estella (Mabel Jones), who has been trained to break men's hearts.
Kazia Pelka brings a fresh, intelligent interpretation as the vindictive Miss Havisham, more cunning and calculating and not so crazy or histrionic as she is normally played, in an impressive performance.
Time has stood still, quite literally, as all the clocks in the house have stopped at the precise time that Miss Havisham was jilted on her wedding day. She still wears her decaying wedding dress and keeps her rotting wedding cake.
Pip becomes indentured to Jo as an apprentice blacksmith and his fortune changes when lawyer Mr Jaggers brings news of a mysterious benefactor who has left him a small fortune.
Pip travels to London where he meets his childhood friend Herbert Pocket (Thomas Padden) who teaches Pip the ways of a gentleman, a lifestyle he embraces with relish, spending his money with reckless abandonment.
The convoluting stories eventually intertwine in a dramatic and unexpected ending as Pip's true benefactor is revealed and Estella's father is discovered.
The splendid eight-strong cast provide some eerie sound effects designed by Tom Mills and Richard Howell's haunting lighting deftly created the myriad of scenes.
This is a stunning innovative production that exceeds all expectations. I urge you not to miss it.
There are reviews from the Oxford Times ("an admirable piece of work"); The Stage ("the Watermill has pulled off an incredibly innovative adaptation"); The Public Reviews ("the cast’s teamwork was outstanding... a good production" 3.5 stars); The British Theatre Guide ("the play is simply a triumph...a stunning innovative production that exceeds all expectations").