Great Expectations at Southwark Playhouse

When you think of Charles Dickens, Great Expectations will always fall within the top five classics of Dickens. For me, it brings back nostalgic memories of reading the novel in secondary school and studying for GCSEs. Joseph Payne plays the protagonist Pip. The young infant boy who struggles to recite his full name to the smart caring gentleman who shows more love and emotion that expected from someone with his upbringing. Payne instantly brings the old English charm through his presence and delivery of each word, demonstrating the naivety of Pip.

For the purpose of theatre, I understand why some scenes and characters were tweaked and in this case, the character of Abel Magwitch portrayed by Jemima Mayala has all the ingredients of a true English “villain”. Her performance is a brilliant addition to every scene she’s part of alongside Tiwalade Ibirogba Olulode’s iconic Miss Havisham. Portraying an iconic character Twialade conveyed a scorned and heartbroken woman as fairly as I could imagine though did not appear 100% heartless.

Overall, the play has a slow pace set throughout and lacks any elements of a shock or surprise factor. The storyline is steady but doesn’t expect any major drama. If you wish to imagine what anyone in the 19th century would’ve watched as a potential soap opera before the existence of Eastenders, Coronation Street and Emmerdale this adaption of Great Expectations would be in the running.

With a lot of storylines to unpack the running time could not have been any longer. I wish there were more exaggerated themes and performances (excluding the overuse of Hallelujah!) such as an emphasis on Pip’s love for Estella, why Miss Havisham is really the way she is and Pip’s ultimate desire to become a gentleman. Having said all this, I enjoyed the fact I knew what I was getting on the tin. I was left to think about the social construction of the emotion, love.

If you’re expecting to see a fairy tale this isn’t quite it. Pip and Joe’s subtle bromance, however, is an element I would’ve enjoyed as a spin-off. Demonstrating no matter how far you may be away from someone you’ll always look out for them. Overall the production adds a great new aspect and different vibe to Dicken’s tales.

Book tickets for Great Expectations. Runs until 28 November at Southwark Playhouse.

Read more theatre reviews here.

Image credit & © Ali Wright


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