My Expectations were Exceeded – Great Expectations – Vaudeville Theatre – Review

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This highly stylised and imposing production brings Dickens’ tale of shattered dreams and suffering to life in a fresh and spirited way.

The atmospheric music playing as we took our seats helped to create the right melancholy mood. It’s gothic style and inventive staging ensure this play is not a reproduction of Victoriana or a boring retelling of the novel.

The older Pip (played superbly by Paul Nivison)is onstage throughout, watching and reacting to the life of his younger self (an astounding performance by Taylor Jay-Davis). This helped as it made us focus on Pip and his journey and not get side tracked into the other characters who are all a vital part of the tale, but it’s their interactions with young Pip that we concentrate on. This means the story has a tightness adaptations sometimes lack. Dickens can be so vast the central thread gets missed. This production is to be applauded that it never looses sight of whose story and expectations we are to follow.

It is a sad tale, with many a shattered life on display, the struggles they face and the triumphs and twists that life throws at them mean my attention was kept throughout.

The entire cast gives strong performances. Josh Elwell as Joe Gargery was especially touching and he had some wonderful comic moments in Act 2 as the servant. Jack Ellis as Jaggers, was dark and imposing yet his revelation at the end of his broken dreams was a real metaphorical punch to the solar plexus.

Great-Expectations-Vaudeville

James Vaughan as Wemmick and Jack Ellis as Jaggers

Substantial female performances came from Paula Wilcox as the mentally unstable Miss Haversham and Grace Rowe as the loveless Estella gave memorably dark performances.

Grace Rowe as Estella and Paula Wilcox as Miss Haversham

Grace Rowe as Estella and Paula Wilcox as Miss Haversham

As I mentioned this is a heavily stylised production, the costumes are amazing and the use of cobwebs on them to denote that what we’re watching is in the past was a cunning touch.

I didn’t have many expectations on going to see this, I was expecting a dry and frankly boring retelling of Dickens tale. It did take a little while to pick up its pace but once it had I was treated to one of the most creative and exciting productions I’ve seen in a while. Go to  http://www.showsinlondon.co.uk/show/great-expectations-0 for tickets.

STARS : * * * *

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Playing Cards 1 : SPADES – Robert Lepage – The Roundhouse

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SPADES

The last play I saw by Robert Lepage (The Blue Dragon) I described as “theatrical perfection” . So my expectations were running high. I was especially intrigued by the idea of a series of plays based on the suits of cards, as I’ve been a professional conjurer for the last 10 years and I was keen to see a play drawing on my 52 friends for inspiration.

This series has been commissioned by the 360° Network ( a worldwide group of 360° theatrical spaces)  and so we are treated to a 360° viewing of the Lepage magic.

Yet despite all its technical wizardry and moments that did touch me, this play felt clunky and contrived on too many occasions. The anti-war characters felt bolted on rather than an organic part of the story.

360° version of a Vegas gaming room

2 characters/stories stood out for me; the gambling addict – his scene at Gamblers Anonymous was extremely powerful. As was the illegal immigrant house maid’s dilemma at needing to find a doctor.

Ironically these two scenes required no fancy staging, yet the rest of play is a dazzling whirligig of theatrical tricks and illusions, which for me detracted from the stories being told. A few musical numbers linked with Vegas /cards just didn’t work and to my mind were obviously added so the central stage area could be set. I expect better from the master of theatrical magic and segues.

Now a “bad” Lepage play is still better than other theatrical work out there. So if you’ve never seen any of Lepage’s work it’s worth going to see, just to see his style, but be aware this is nowhere near the pinnacles he can reach.

Maybe he’s finding his feet with the 360° concept. I look forward to the next suit in the pack and hope it relies less on the whistles and bells and keeps us connected via the humanity on stage.

At the end there were more technicians on stage being applauded than actors, therein lies the problem with this piece for me.

STARS : * *