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Teddy Hayes Productions presents


Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations (the musical)

 

Book and Music by Teddy Hayes

Directed by Jack Gunn

Musical Arrangement by Chris Jerome

Choreography by Jack Gunn & Anton Fosh

 

The Rose Theatre

 

31 May - 6 June 2010

 

 

 

 

THE IMPOSTERSCouzens

A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

This good-natured, musical production is actually more fun than any onstage production I’ve ever seen of any Dickens, anywhere.  Its’ DIY, low-tech aesthetics somehow seem entirely in keeping with both the production itself, in which some of the actors play many roles, with surprising conviction, and the songs’ lyrics which cleverly tell us all we need to know about each character, and its unusual surroundings, which feature, on one side of the performance area, the very foundations of the Rose itself – the first Elizabethan theatre in Bankside. Before the production even began, we were captivated, as Dickens himself might have been, with the fascinating history of the Rose.

In an audience in which many different nationalities could be heard, excitedly conversing before the show began, there was already a feeling of expectation in the air – just how greatly those expectations may have been exaggerated, or not, remained to be seen. For some strange reason, I had not realised that this production was a musical, perhaps because as theatres go, the Rose is very low-key. ‘There is no toilet’ was not exactly a good advertisement for the coffee they were selling. But it is, without doubt, a genuine experience going to the Rose Theatre to see anything, let alone something as enjoyable as this production and one of the real marvels was, why the show wasn’t sold out!

For those of you who may be magna cum du’oh in relation to Dickens, here’s the storyline: Seven year old Pip is an orphan who’s been ‘hand raised’ by a kindly blacksmith named Joe, though his wife (Pip’s older sister) is not just shrewish, but extremely hard on Pip. One evening, the boy comes across a seemingly dangerous man in the marshes who turns out to be a convict who’s been unjustly over-sentenced, simply because he’s of a ‘lower’ class than the next guy. It doesn’t even matter that his heart is bigger than most toffs’ because it’s the ‘done thing’ in England that the man with the poshest accent rules. You get the picture, and that’s one of the things I love most about Dickens – his writing always gives the full picture, from both perspectives – high and low and nothing and no-one is ever how they seem to be. After stealing food from Mrs. Joe’s kitchen for the starving convict, the poor man manages to get away from the authorities and Pip goes on with his life and hardly ever thinks of the man. Shortly thereafter, a rich spinster named Miss Haversham requests that a boy should come and ‘play’ in her mansion and Pip is recruited for the task. Unfortunately, her purpose is simply to make Pip fall into unrequited love with her vain, haughty ward, Estella, who by her own admission cannot love anybody, as vengeance for Miss Haversham being left at the altar years before. In the meantime, luckily, (and I say that from Dickens’ moral perspective) Mrs. Joe gets her comeuppance via a fatal accident, and a homey gal named Biddy, who soon becomes a vital part of Joe and Pip’s family arrives to help them out.  Time passes and Pip grows up, working as apprentice to Joe in the blacksmithing trade, believing he’ll always do so. However, one day, an official looking man arrives at the cottage to announce that thanks to an unspecified benefactor, Pip will soon be leaving for London, where he will live the life of a gentleman.

I’ve never seen so many people take such pleasure in a live version of Great Expectations. There are several reasons for that, one of them being because most of the show’s songs have such funny lyrics. Another is because the production features a combination of seasoned actors who bring a wealth of experience to their roles and eager young players, chief among the younger set, the youth who plays Pip as a boy – Matthew Wells who also performs a comic character filled, moustached turn later on as Estella’s equally (if not more) vain suitor, Bentley Drummle on ‘horseback’, worthy of a Victorian music hall.  I’m not giving anything more away here - you’ll just have to see the show for yourself.

There are lots of praise-worthy performances here, among them – Jackie Skavellis’ intentionally OTT Miss Haversham, who at times seems on the verge of morphing into a real witch, which, when you think about it, is suitable for a character who intentionally warps the thinking of a young girl to avenge a soured romance. John Pyle’s Joe is also very apt – both comic and touching, sometimes simultaneously. Pyle’s moments as Joe on his first ever visit to London, with Peter Gentry as the older Pip turned ‘gentleman’ are, despite any distractions here – gently moving. Conversely, Gentry also plays obnoxious Uncle Pumblechook who garners laughs in padding and a wig bordering on frightful. Iain Doolson makes a fine job of his escaped convict, Abel Magwitch, and his turn in the musical spotlight is one of the funniest. Co-producer John Elnaugh who plays Jagger, the man charged with setting up arrangements and identifying things like one’s true parentage, etc. seems as though he was born to play a myriad of Dickens characters, such is his focus and canny blend of solid and silly. Carrie Shaw was a good choice for Estella as she capably demonstrates a cool heartlessness and haughtiness.  Anton Fosh, who plays adult Pip’s roommate and childhood sparring partner, Herbert Pocket, also turns in a fine performance, as a toff with a heart. The song Fosh sings while teaching Pip how to be a gentleman is great fun. Mia Tizzano’s warm-hearted Biddy and hypocritical, self-professed child-raising expert, Mrs. Wopsel almost make her seem like two different people, while Kate Worth’s roles as Mrs. Joe and Sarah Pocket likewise, add much to the production. Paul Engers completes the cast as a jack of all trades, filling in wherever needed with great gusto and enthusiasm.

The songs in this show are a real mixed bag of styles, and there is only one instance where that doesn’t seem to work, but that’s only because by the time the song in question – a duet, is being sung, it’s far too late for us to take this production seriously, so a serious song doesn’t seem to wash – a minor point in such an entertaining production. I’m not totally adverse to Disney-type ballads, especially in the guise of a love-song, but it doesn’t seem to work here. However, you may beg to differ and by the time my most ambivalent moments arrived, I had already been well amused for a goodly length of time, so I decided to hang loose and ride it out. Which, turned out to be a good move, for by the end of it, I found myself clapping along with the rest of the audience, and smiling – a true sign that I was enjoying myself, not through star induced propaganda or high-tech pyrotechnics, but simply from the experience of attending a well meaning production enacted with charm to spare.

All the DIY aspects of this production warm, rather than chafe and they happily, seem to be endless, as this is an inventive troupe. There’s a bit of shuffling in the dark between scenes to get the proper settings, sparse as they are into place, and/or to fit parts into existing props to turn them into something else, but the actors have worked very hard on this show and know their cues, so this is always achieved with a minimum of fuss. A technical helper, who waved to us at the end of the show from the far side of the Rose’s shadowy foundations, almost seemed like a leftover ghost from the original theatre.

If you can handle Dickens that’s not exactly as written, but is actually more derived from David Lean’s 1946 adaptation of Dickens for the silver screen, you won’t have a problem with any of the liberties this production seems to take. If you aren’t acquainted with the story of Great Expectations, go anyway, as this adaptation doesn’t miss any of the essential parts of the story. If the thought of a musical Dickens seems cringe-worthy, get over it, and get over to The Rose for a good night out.

 

Sunday 6th June, matinee 3pm only

Performances start at 7.30pm (except Sunday at 3:00pm only)

The Rose Theatre Bankside
56 Park Street
Bankside Southwark
SE1 9AS

www.rosetheatre.org.uk

Tickets £12.00 / £10.00 concessions

£2 discount if you book both shows at the same time

Box office: 020 7261 9565

Email: boxoffice@rosetheatre.org.uk

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