REVIEW: Great Expectations @ Winchester Festival Theatre

Reviewed by Nathan Deane

A classic Dickens story I am ashamed to have not yet read, Great Expectations tells the story of Pip, a poor young boy who meets an escaped convict and has his life changed, meeting the extravagant Miss Havisham, falling in love with her adopted daughter Estelle, and falling into the lap of luxury when a mysterious benefactor pays for him to live a life of luxury in London.

The novel has been retold in many forms, most recently on screen starring Helena Bonham Carter and on TV in a 3-part mini-series commissioned by the BBC. I’ve never seen any adaptations so going into the Festival Theatre in Winchester, I was completely blind to the story, having only seen the haunting artwork on the posters around the city.

The play was written by Ken Bently, a writer most known for his audio plays. This play was written in a true Dickensian manner that some of the language went straight over the top of my head, nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the humour and drama of the piece.

The direction, by Sophie Boyce Couzens, was original and intimate, making use of the beautiful rustic set by James Turner. The play was scored throughout with accordion and violin music composed by Ollie King, who, as well as playing the instruments, doubles up as a member of the ensemble.

Séan Aydon plays the story’s central character, Pip. Aydon played the role at a variety of ages, from a young child to a well-off adult gentleman. Aydon brought such energy to the role as well as raw emotion and the performance felt genuine and fresh.

Early on in the story, Pip is invited to the home of the elderly and reclusive Miss Havisham, played by the wonderful Nichola McAuliffe. McAuliffe commands the stage as Miss Havisham, the bride-to-be who was abandoned by her fiance on her wedding day. Her performance was haunting and captivating, and at certain points, throughout the second act, I felt my eyes well up at her portrayal of the iconic character.

The ensemble of 7 play a variety of characters and narrators and work as a team to make sure the piece runs smoothly, often playing musical instruments on stage for sound effects. They also sang quite a bit (well, more than I expected) which was a touch I thought was brilliant.

This was a beautifully staged piece of theatre that tells a chilling story and would do Charles Dickens himself proud.

4stars

Great Expectations is touring the UK until June. Tickets and more information can be found here.

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