Saddleworth Players

Review: Great Expectations, Fulfilled

Great Expectations cast Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations is a sprawling coming-of-age story, a a tale of poverty and wealth, rejection and love, sin and forgiveness, full of colourful scenes and colourful characters that have entered popular culture, and the tale has been translated into many languages and adapted into many media.

One such adaptation, a play by the highly celebrated British author Neil Bartlett, OBE, has been taken up by the talented Karen Barton. But how to tell a tale that spans years and the globe itself and not lose the essential themes that Dickens depicted? A film or television director would give us every detail of the story in glorious colour with special effects and a cast of hundreds.

Karen, however, uses her venue at the Millgate Arts Centre and her resources to her advantage, and successfully so, by giving us ‘close-up magic’. Dickens wrote a novel from the perspective of Pip, and Karen has done one better, by making Pip the literal storyteller, and the stage his mindscape, the ensemble cast acting as both avatars of his memory and a Greek chorus, reflecting his state of mind as well as his inner thoughts.

Thus, through this method we can move from the windswept, haunted marshes where the escaped convict Abel Magwitch hides, to the dark, bleak house of the mad, forlorn Miss Havisham, to the crooked, unfriendly streets of London with the speed of memory and just a few props and special effects. Even the cast, many of whom portray multiple roles throughout the story, do so with a fluid grace and just a quick shift in costume and characters.

The result is unlike anything I have seen onstage before. Pip becomes our guide into his thoughts, his life, relating the events as the cast brings them to life around him. And the cast and venue ensures it becomes a very personal, intimate affair, eschewing spectacular set-pieces without losing any of the potency or pathos of our protagonist.

The cast is superlative: Sam Reid is our hero Pip, beaten down by life from the very start, driven by unrequited love and brutal circumstance into wanting to rise above his station and become a gentleman. As Pip is telling us his story directly, and we are privy to his thoughts, he is onstage for nearly the entire play, giving him little relief. Fortunately, his shoulders are more than strong enough to shoulder the burden.

Kate Davies plays Estella, raised to be a cold and calculating heartbreaker; Kate brings a vulnerability and sympathy to the role. Patricia Redshaw makes the iconic role of Miss Havisham her own, turning one of Dickens’ most well-known characters into something more than a caricature. Phil Clegg’s sympathetic blacksmith Joe Gargery is a standout, as is John Hankin’s dynamic, menacing portrayal of the predatory, scheming convict Magwitch, but really, all the cast perform so well together it is almost criminal to single anyone out.

It had been ages since I was last at the remarkable Millgate Arts Centre, a striking venue in the heart of Delph, its layout unique, its age and character vibrant and unmistakeable. It lends itself to be as vital a part of the theatre experience as the script, the cast, the direction and the crew. No event can be ordinary when held here.

Great Expectations is at the MIllgate Arts Centre from Nov 25 to Dec 2, 2017, and your own great expectations will be more than fulfilled by coming to see this marvellous experience.

Deb Connelly, Nov 27, 2017