Saddleworth Players

The burning of Miss Havisham, and other sundries

Neil Bartlett's play Great Expectations raises a great many technical difficulties. How do you show an audience Miss Havisham's wedding feast in a confined space; a desperate hunt for an escaped prisoner on the Kent marshes at night; a paddle steamer running at full steam on the river Thames or indeed how do you burn one of your actors when you require her services the next night?

These questions raise more questions: How do you make a wedding cake look as though it's been there for 25 years? What did people use for light out on the Kent marshes in 1805? What did paddle steamers sound like in the early days of steam? Did they have horns? How did Miss Havisham actually set fire to herself?

With the aid of Google we found some answers and set about recreating what we knew.

Liz O'Donnell, props, has had her creativity tested to the limits making an ornate cake, which won’t actually fall down; even whilst it looks as though it might. The intricacies of shackles and handcuffs have become a part of her vocabulary!

My trusty sound comrades, Andrew Mann and Luke Settle, worked hard to try and get things right but it wasn't easy. We all know what a rasping file sounds like but, when you actually hear it out of context over the speakers, reality turns to Disney. The sound of a paddle steamer's horn can become highly comical in fact!

My lighting director, David Plowright, and I plotted several ways that we might conceivably burn a person on stage whilst not setting fire to the rest of the set. Some ways were rejected, due to lack of highly specialised or expensive equipment, like projecting flames onto the dress or hiring real fire products for her to disappear behind. Other ways were rejected due to restrictions of our stage: light spreads easily across the small area of our stage. Miss Havisham herself obstinately rejected any form of self-sacrifice. So how did we do it?

Come along and see for yourselves...

Karen Barton, Nov 20, 2017