Ginger Hibiscus | Ginger Hibiscus |REVIEW: Eric and Little Ern
Ginger Hibiscus |REVIEW: Eric and Little Ern
Ginger Hibiscus |REVIEW: Eric and Little Ern
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18 Dec REVIEW: Miss Havisham’s Expectations at the Trafalgar Studios

A Dickens classic, Great Expectations is a traditional coming-of-age story piqued by complex characters and beautifully detailed narrative. A book taught in schools up and down the country, it follows the social and emotional development of the orphaned Pip, who lives the early years of his life in an impoverished blacksmith’s forge, before an anonymous benefactor funds him a move to London. He finds himself in the unlikely position of having the means to live as a gentleman, but is forced to do it in a Victorian London where social mobility isn’t exactly encouraged, and where a vulture is indistinguishable from a reliable friend. As he grows up, Pip is summoned from the forge to visit a wealthy and mysterious Miss Havisham and her beautiful daughter, Estella, a puppet that’s used to show him what it is to love, to desire and to hurt.

The story of Miss Havisham herself is certainly one worthy of study. A wealthy spinster who stopped time at the moment she was unceremoniously jilted on her wedding day, she has a profound hatred of men and an apparent oblivion to her mansion decaying around her. One of the most enigmatic of Dickens’ characters, she takes on an existence entirely of her own in, ”Miss Havisham’s Expectations,” this bizarre elderly lady finally taking centre stage rather than being just a character in someone else’s story.

Delivered as a soliloquy from Miss “Norma” Havisham herself (Linda Marlowe), the show is a wonderful opportunity to spend an hour thinking about a fantastic piece of literature, to revisit a story that for me had begun gathering dust – much like Miss Havisham’s wedding cake – in the depths of my memory, but one that once shaken off leaps straight back to life. The script from writer/director Di Sherlock sets the context of how Miss Havisham is important to the story of Great Expectations, entirely from per own perspective; the show’s probably half way through before there’s much mention of the more traditional protagonist, Pip, a bold move fitting for the structure of the play and for the nature of Miss Havisham; significant consideration has clearly gone into determining how Miss Havisham would choose to present this information to an audience, and the result is incredibly effective. On top of that,Sherlock picks up on an impressive array of details about her life from the novel, compiled to create this comprehensive character study.

Uniquely to this show, Sherlock’s Miss Havisham is acutely aware that she’s a character in a story, and that she was created in the mind of “Sir Dick.” She’s agonisingly conscious that what she became in the novel is a result of the interplay of the whims of fancy that pervaded Dickens’ thoughts, nudged along by changes in his own relationships. Particularly fascinating is the way that she considers what she could have been, had things been different for her author.

Despite the interesting concept and thorough exploration of the character, as presented by Dickens, there is an overwhelming feeling that the show just doesn’t add anything to the understanding of her as a character. I expected to come out having experienced some kind of revelation, an explanation of her actions that goes far above and beyond that offered up by Dickens, that would tie the plot and the characters together in a beautiful metaphorical bow. But that revelation never came. Perhaps it’s sensible not to meddle with the works of the great Charles Dickens. But at the same time, what’s the point, if not to add anything? It seems to be a show with an undefined audience; adding nothing for those who love the book, and a little too specific for those who don’t. The only audience I could see it working strongly for would be school classes studying Great Expectations and wanting a more detailed look at the character of Miss Havisham.

Boasting a minimalist yet imaginative and effective set, the extensive use of projections produces decidedly mixed results. The outlandish projected interruptions from Bill Sykes are baffling at best, and the up close illusionist work peculiarly incongruous. Whilst it is definitely interesting to spend the time exploring the characterisation of Miss Havisham, watching Miss Havisham’s Expectations feels really quite like you would imagine an encounter with Miss Havisham to feel; bizarre, bewildering and not exactly the height of enjoyment.

Venue: Trafalgar Studios
Dates: Until 3rd January 2015
For tickets and information:

Star Rating

Ginger Hibiscus don’t like using stars as a headline; we think they’re too reductionist, and that decision-making based on stars misses the point of a review. Just as you wouldn’t judge a personality using a five-point scale, theatre is multi-dimensional. So have a read, and then look at the stars afterwards.
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