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Great Expectations (Susan Elkin reviews)

Great Expectations
by Charles Dickens, adapted by Neil Bartlett – National Youth Theatre Rep Company
society/company: National Youth Theatre of Great Britain (NYT)
performance date: 22 Oct 2019
venue: Southwark Playhouse, 77-85 Newington Causeway, London SE1 6BD

Neil Bartlett’s robust adaptation of Dickens’s 1861 novel is an ideal fit for the NTY Rep Company. It exploits the considerable talents of sixteen pretty promising young actors with integrated spoken chorus work and, under Mumba Dodwell’s fresh, imaginative direction there’s lots of muscular physicality.

The adaptation, originally commissioned by Watermill Theatre in 2011 is impressively faithful to the novel. Only a few minor characters, subplots and digressions are missing and some of the dialogue is straight off the page – Dickens was himself was a theatrical chap after all. Between them cast members play dozens of roles on and off a long grey stone platform with South Playhouse’s large space configured in traverse format.

As Pip, Joseph Payne takes his character from frightened child to a stunned legatee and then to a deeply troubled adult. The development is as moving as it is intelligent.

Tiwalade Ibirogba-Olulode is glitteringly good as Miss Havisham. She’s one of those rare actors who can command attention and establish stage presence with voice, manner and timing alone although she also looks dramatically arresting in her yellowing, lace, hooped wedding dress.

Then there are the smaller roles of which most of the ensemble play several. Jamie Foulkes, for example, does a very entertaining comic turn as the sycophantic, self-important Pumblechook. Ella Dacres finds a beautiful still kindness in Biddy and Guy Clark’s supercilious, disdainful Jaggers is spot on. What an inspired idea, too, to rework Mr Wopsle as a tiresome evangelist. It isn’t very Victorian but Sarah Lusack makes it sparky and funny.

NYT rep company is a training group convened (from around 500 applicants) annually from its membership. This 2019 cohort impresses and I look forward to seeing the other work in this year’s cohort.

First published by Sardines:
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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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