Neil Cooper - The Herald
Published: 7 June 2015
5 stars *****
It is a bleak and austere house that Pip and Estella find themselves in at the opening and close of Jemima Levick's production of Charles Dickens' classic treatise on class, power and the perils of having ideas above one's station. Using Jo Clifford's original 1987 adaptation which has continually regenerated over the last three decades, Levick has utilised the script's rich and brutal poetry to create a magnificent and stately piece of darkly comic gothica that retains its period lyricism while becoming a profoundly pertinent play for today.
As a role-call of grotesques step through the walls of empty picture frames where still lives were once captured on Becky Minto's set, Pip is thrust from a poor provincial existence to the mysterious wonders of Miss Havisham's loveless parlour before being whisked off to London where he learns the ways of the world.
"If they do cut your throat," says lawyer's clerk Wemmick to Pip of the human detritus around them as they bustle their way through the big city streets, "it is because they believe they can make a profit from it." In a world where property is worth more than people and a gentleman is higher than everyone else, profit is all that counts.
What Levick does in this co-production between Dundee Rep Ensemble and the Perth based Horsecross Arts organisation is create an elaborate impressionistic dance that moves at a stately pace beneath the stark shadowplay of Mike Robertson's lighting but which never loses clarity. This is pulsed by a powerful piano score played live by David Paul Jones, who also weaves exquisitely moody arrangements of several contemporary songs into the mix.
Levick's eight-strong cast never put a foot wrong, with company veterans Emily Winter and, as a wraith-like Miss Havisham, Ann Louise Ross, rarely better. David Delve, John Macauley, Antony Strachan and Sally Reid are equally unforgettable. It is Millie Turner as the emotionally strangled Estella and especially Thomas Cotran as Pip who carry this thrilling but troubling evocation of the everyday tragedies caused by one wrong turn.
Joyce McMillan - The Scotsman
Published: 8 February 2015
4 stars ****
It’s perhaps the greatest of all his great novels, a vast, swirling story of love and longing, class and money, set against the backdrop of explosive economic and social change that was England in the 1850s. And now, out of the darkness of Becky Minto’s towering set – all black picture-frames and niches that double as grand interiors, the walls of city streets, and something beyond – comes a stage adaptation that takes the full measure of Charles Dickens’s mighty 1861 novel Great Expectations, and does it more than justice.
First seen in a small-scale TAG production in 1988, Jo Clifford’s great stage version focusses tightly on the story of Dickens’s iconic young hero, Pip, brought up by his hard-handed elder sister and her kindly husband Joe at a blacksmith’s forge in the Essex marshes, but destined to have his life transformed both by the intervention of the eccentric Miss Havisham – a wealthy and reclusive local lady who wants him as playmate for her beautiful ward Estella – and, later, by an anonymous bequest of money that transforms him into a young London “gentleman”.
And now, this beautifully clear and passionate version is revived in a co-production by Dundee Rep and Perth Theatre at Horsecross, directed by the Rep’s Jemima Levick, that simply ravishes audiences, over almost three hours, with a combination of storytelling, drama, light, music and movement so powerful that the emotional effect is sometimes almost overwhelming. Both David Paul Jones’s passionate, lyrical live piano score and Emily Jane Boyle’s fine choreography, make an outstanding contribution to the story, as the score sometimes swoops from the 19th into the 20th century with songs of love and longing that bring Pip’s obsession with Estella frighteningly close to us, and as the movement – exquisitely delivered by a Dundee Ensemble cast of eight – echoes great recent Scottish shows like Black Watch and The Salon Project, using the ritual of clothing to trace Pip’s transformations from poor boy to gentleman.
Thomas Cotran is eloquent as Pip, Ann Louise Ross haunting and magnificent as Miss Havisham, Millie Turner a chilling and heartbreaking Estella. And if, in the final scenes, the pace flags slightly, it’s a minor flaw in a stunningly well-made show, that leaves the audience in no doubt about how the politics of wealth and class damages lives, distorts desire, makes a mockery of love; and ensures traditional happy endings are hard to find, even in the world of great imaginative fiction.
Mark Fisher - The Guardian
Published: 12 June 2015
4 stars ****
One reason Great Expectations adapts so readily to the stage is the fact that so many of its characters are consciously acting out roles. It’s not so much the baroque Dickensian caricatures, which are thankfully underplayed in Jemima Levick’s excellent production. There’s Estella in training to become an ice maiden; Pip taking on the clothes of a gentleman; Magwitch trying to suppress his inner convict; and Jaggers distinguishing between his personal beliefs and his professional role as a lawyer. Even Miss Havisham (a pale, fragile Anne Louise Ross) has deliberately reinvented herself from innocent bride to vengeful manipulator.
The image they show to the world is almost always in conflict with the people they truly are, an idea reinforced by Becky Minto’s haunting set in which corridors of empty picture frames stand ready to capture some fleeting – and inadequate – likeness. As Mike Robertson’s high-contrast lighting slices through the gloom, muting the colours, the production is like a black-and-white movie, especially being accompanied by the swirling arpeggios of David Paul Jones’s live piano score.
All this creates a gothic, dream-like world for Thomas Cotran’s Pip to journey through in Jo Clifford’s venerable adaptation. As a child, he is good hearted but strong willed; as a man, he never shakes off the boy within. Above all, in this moving production, he captures the emotional tumult of someone compelled to live up to an image imposed from outside.
Unusually, this has greatest impact in his relationships with the men. Rather than being frostily unattainable, Millie Turner’s Estella is as lost as he is, making his infatuation with her seem less self-destructive. This shifts the focus to the father figures – Joe, Jaggers and Magwitch – and the sad failure to communicate with those who loved him the most and could say so the least.
Mark Brown - The Sunday Herald
Published: 21 June 2015
Jemima Levick's three years at Dundee Rep have been distinctly variable. Now, as her co-artistic director Philip Howard takes his leave of the Tayside theatre, is a good time for her to remind us just how good her work can be.
Blessed with a superb adaptation of Dickens's Great Expectations by Jo Clifford, Levick has fashioned a deeply affecting and impressively classy presentation of one of the great novels of English liberalism. It takes huge skill to transpose from page to stage the story of the progress of the orphan Pip, from working-class roots in the Kent marshes to the London gentry, and back again.
Levick's production for the Rep and Horsecross Arts (as Perth Theatre's parent company insists on calling itself) has the necessary brilliance in every department. Each element of the show - from Becky Minto's stylishly bleak, cleverly functional set (comprised of dozens of picture frames), to Mike Robertson's ever-shifting, atmospheric lighting and David Paul Jones's gorgeous music and songs (performed by the composer himself on a baby grand) - fits the others like a hand into one of Miss Havisham's lace gloves.
Clifford proves herself a master craftswoman in turning a substantial, episodic novel into an engaging, tightly wrought play. The splendid structure and balance of her script is matched by Levick's flawless casting.
It seems invidious to single out anyone in what is, first and foremost, a wonderful ensemble performance. That said, Great Expectations can never be truly great on stage without a compelling Pip, and Thomas Cotran, by turns self-doubting, naive and ludicrously snobbish, has the measure of his character, both as boy and man.
There are lovely performances, too, from Ann Louise Ross (a believably anguished Miss Havisham), Millie Turner (a stoic, turned righteously angry Estella) and David Delve (equally superb as both the pompous Wopsle and the inscrutable Jaggers).
On her day, Levick is one of the finest directors in the country. This Dickens will surely be remembered as one of her best pieces of work.
Alan Radcliffe - The Times
Published: 16 June 2015
4 stars ****
Stage and screen adaptations of Dickens have tended to emphasise the epic scale of the author’s novels. The 15-part Bleak House for BBC television is a case in point, as is the Royal Shakespeare Company’s nine-hour version of Nicholas Nickleby from 1980. But this revival of Jo Clifford’s adaptation of Great Expectations for Dundee Rep and Perth’s Horsecross Arts is one of those rare things: a literary adaptation that abridges the novel’s sprawl without losing sight of the author’s themes of class, social mobility, love and hope.
Clifford’s script, created in collaboration with Glasgow’s TAG company back in 1988, employs a framing device in which the older, wiser Pip (Thomas Cotran) looks back on the events of his life in the company of Estella (Millie Turner). In Jemima Levick’s production this subjective first-person narrative finds physical expression in Becky Minto’s set design, a labyrinth of empty picture frames, through which the characters wander like ghosts, with the whole production lent a hazy dream-like quality by Mike Robertson’s lighting.
The emotional atmosphere is also greatly enhanced by a haunting live soundtrack, composed and performed by David Paul Jones, that tracks the changes in mood from major to minor and incorporates songs ranging from the blacksmiths’ ditty Hammer Boys Round Old Clem to a poignant rendition of the Mama Cass classic Dream a Little Dream of Me. Meanwhile, some unobtrusive passages of movement by Emily-Jane Boyle neatly evoke Pip’s transitions from child to youth and from blacksmith’s apprentice to gentleman.
The ensemble is only eight-strong but by the end of the running time you feel as though all of humanity has passed before your eyes. Actors David Delve and Antony Strachan bring a recognisably Dickensian quality to a range of the author’s larger-than-life characters, including Jaggers, the obsessive-compulsive lawyer, and Pip’s big-hearted brother-in-law, Joe Gargery. Ann Louise Ross as Miss Havisham is wraith-like in her tattered wedding gown yet hardened in her resolve to pass on her hatred of men. Turner captures Estella’s mix of hauteur and vulnerability while Cotran, playing Pip from boy to man, convincingly rings the changes with a strong, sympathetic performance.
At more than two-and-a-half hours the piece is perhaps a shade too long with the ending in particular a little drawn-out. Overall, though, the balance of storytelling and atmosphere in Levick’s production is virtually flawless, resulting in an evening of theatre that is as moving as it is compelling.
Peter Cargill - The Stage
Published: 8 June 2015
4 stars ****
It’s dark and it’s broody, as befits Dickens’ tale of poverty, wealth and unrequited love.
Mike Robertson’s lighting is a technical triumph, complementing Becky Minto’s set constructed entirely of hanging frames encapsulating the characters in the atmospheric prologue.
Director Jemima Levick and choreographer Emily-Jane Boyle combine to present a very stylish production, sometimes surreal, but also maintaining the intensity in contrast to the lighter moments.
This version of Jo Clifford’s adaptation, first staged in 1988, is taken at a slow pace, although it rarely drags. However, its length does lead to a rush for the last bus home.
Thomas Cotran is the ensemble’s graduate for this year and he shines in the marathon task of Pip’s transformation, while any humour is expertly handled by David Delve, combining the roles of Wopsle and Jaggers. The experience of long-standing ensemble members Ann Louise Ross (Miss Haversham) and Emily Winter (Pip’s sister) shines through while Millie Turner is suitably cool and cold-hearted as Pip’s love interest Estella.
John Macaulay shows his versatility as the evil Magwitch doubling up, in total contrast, as the delightfully camp Herbert Pocket.
Anthony Strachan strikes the right likeable note as Joe and also Wemmick, with Sally Reid completing the octet as Biddy.
Composer David Paul Jones provides a keyboard accompaniment throughout to enhance the atmosphere, also contributing vocally on occasions. His version of Dream A Little Dream (Mamas and Papas hit and also Robbie Williams) seems, at first, incongruous, but, somehow, seems to fit the mood.
Karl Henry - TV Bomb
Published: 7 June 2015
3 stars ***
Capping off the Rep’s revenge season is Jo Clifford’s adaptation of Charles Dickens Great Expectations directed by Jemima Levick. This understandably much streamlined version of Dickens’ classic focuses on the orphan Pip as he vies for the love of Estella while aspiring to join the upper-class.
One of the great things about any Dickens novel is the strength of the characterisation, his ability to create defined and vivid characters that have entered the popular zeitgeist. Sadly this characterization doesn’t quite transfer when put onto the stage. One reason for this might be due to the amount that had to be cut from the original story in order to fit the two plus hours runtime. What we’re left with is the bare bones of the story, when it’s the meat that all the flavour comes from. While many of Dickens’ characters are exaggerated and over the top (something the cast captures well in this production), one can’t help but feel that a more subdued and muted performance would have worked better with the dark gothic stylings of the play. It’s a shame really that these one or two things let down what is otherwise an excellent adaptation; as literally everything else works.
The simple yet effective set design of grungy old hanging frames that conceal a multitude of raised platforms accessed only by metal stairways evokes an era on the brink of the industrial revolution, when not only the nation is changing rapidly but also our lead, Pip. Even set alteration, when performers move the stairs to become a range of various props throughout the production, is done with effortless fluidity while the cast glide around the stage. Likewise with Pip’s costume changes that happen on stage or the particularly memorable ball scene, movement becomes key in this play and is excellently choreographed by Movement Director Emily-Jane Boyle.
Special note should be made of composer David Paul Jones’ combination of piano melodies with his own baritone vocals, as they are hauntingly beautiful, not only becoming one of the most memorable components of the play, but superbly adding to the gothic sensibilities of the production and encapsulating the sadness many of the characters feel. Great Expectations is worth seeing for Jones’ score alone.
Great Expectations really has got a great many aspects right, which is why it’s all the more disappointing that a few don’t work, especially considering the plays stunning finale. Maybe leave the great expectations at home and bring the alright.