Watford Palace Theatre
25 February 2011
Charles Dickens is such a fabulous storyteller that the less an adapter does to his work the better so I was pleased that Tanika Gupta kept to the same basic story in her version of Great Expectations - just put it somewhere else.
In Dickens' novel, Pip has an encounter with a convict and is then given the chance to better himself when asked to regularly visit the reclusive Miss Havisham.
He begins to dream of being more than the working class boy that he is and when he is told he has an anonymous benefactor he begins to pursue his dream of becoming a gentleman, because he thinks that this will win him the heart of Miss Havisham's adopted daughter, the heartless Estella.
In her stage adaptation, Gupta has picked up this story and put it down in India during the time of the British Raj of 1861 and in doing so imparts a more specific message than just a critique of the British justice system that Dickens original work is often thought to be.
Instead of being a poor English boy, Pip is now a poor Indian boy - except with a Northern accent!
Magwitch is now a black convict instead of a white one, Miss Haversham is the same but represents colonial harshness and the haughty Estelle is mixed race.
It is the same tale but the emphasis is on Pip becoming an English gentleman, rather than merely a gentleman. Therefore the message at the end is pretty clear. In his desire to move up a class, improve his status and therefore become more socially acceptable, he has left his heritage and cultural identity behind and not been true to himself.
Nikolai Foster’s production for the English Touring Theatre is well-performed and moves on a pace from scene to scene although I did feel that the energy dipped at the beginning of the second half - or maybe that was just mine!
Tariq Jordan handled the role of Pip with great care, skillfully maturing from 12-year-old to young adult, to young adult with a posh English accent! He was rarely off the stage but his performance never flagged.
He was supported by a strong ensemble cast. Jude Akuwudike’s Magwitch commanded the stage in every scene he was in while Tony Jayawardena's lovely, caring Joe Gargery and Giles Cooper’s very posh Herbert Pocket also stood out for me.
Lynn Farleigh’s Miss Havisham was the epitomy of faded glamour and Simone James was suitably irritating in her coldness towards Pip, but still not half as annoying as Becca in EastEnders, a role for which, at the moment, she is chiefly known.
This really is a very interesting and enjoyable version of the tale which also highlights how many of its themes are universal and can be relevant to any place and time. Gupta has also brought out the comedy of the story which is always a winner in my book!
It makes for a very entertaining evening but, as with all stage adaptations of great works of literature, it doesn't come close to the enriching experience of reading the original prose.
Read my interview with Tariq Jordan: www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-beds-bucks-herts-12430289