Thursday 17 April 2014

Festive fare for all the family lives up to the greatest of expectations

'Great Expectations', a late Dickens novel, has always been difficult.

Firstly, because of the character of Estella and the mystery surrounding her origins; secondly, because of the coincidence of Jaggers acting for Miss Havisham, as well as for the mystery source of Pip's 'expectation' in life. It demands careful direction and a sympathetic hand.

Emphasis on the heart-warming relationship between Pip and Joe Gargery is a crucial part of the story, and the blacksmith, played by Murray McArthur in the best performance of the evening, achieves this. He captures the poignancy and tenderness of his affection for Pip -- played well as a child by Jack Gleeson -- and handles beautifully the gap between them as the young man climbs upwards, becoming "a gentleman" and losing contact with his friend.

Pip, played coolly as an adult by Adam Fergus, and his companion, Herbert Pocket, wittily played by Domhnall Gleeson, push the story along. This mainly means taking us through encounters with a fey Donna Dent, tottering through the part of Miss Havisham, and a chilling performance by Kate Kirby as Estella. Robert O'Mahoney is an overwhelming Magwitch.

Kelly Campbell over-acts as Mrs Gargery, as does Mal Whyte as Uncle Pumblechook. Kelly Campbell doubles up in a second part, redeeming herself with a pretty performance as Biddy. Bryan Murray is an excellent Jaggers and Mark O'Regan good in the part of his clerk, Wemmick.

The adaptation makes one long for the full text. There are such good remarks made in dialogue here, though there is a sense of drastic cutting in Hugh Leonard's adaptation.

My two grandchildren, aged 12 and 7, came and added their judgement. It was altogether positive. They never asked the question -- When will it be over? -- and this was full-length adult theatre at the same time as attractive Christmas fare for the whole family.

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