Sunday, 17 February 2013

Great Expectations - Vaudeville Theatre, Thursday 14th February 2013


Pip, an orphan who is about six years old, encounters an escaped convict in the village churchyard while visiting the graves of his mother, father, and siblings. The convict scares Pip into stealing food and a file to grind away his shackles from the home he shares with his abusive older sister and her kind, passive husband Joe Gargery, a blacksmith. The next day, soldiers recapture the convict who is returned to the prison ship he escaped from.

Miss Havisham, who lives in the dilapidated Satis House, arranges for Pip to play with her adopted daughter Estella. Pip begins to visit Miss Havisham and Estella, with whom he falls in love with Miss Havisham's encouragement. Pip visits Miss Havisham multiple times, and during one of these visits, he brings Joe along. During their absence, Mrs. Joe is attacked by a mysterious individual and lives out the rest of her life as a mute invalid.
Later, when Pip is a young apprentice at Joe's blacksmith shop, a lawyer, Mr. Jaggers, approaches him and tells him he is to receive a large sum of money from an anonymous benefactor and must immediately leave for London, where he is to become a gentleman.

Years later, Pip has reached adulthood and is now heavily in debt. Abel Magwitch, the convict he helped, who was transported to Australia where he eventually became wealthy, reveals himself to Pip as his benefactor. There is a warrant for Magwitch's arrest in England, and he will be hanged if he is caught. Pip hatches a plan for Magwitch to flee by boat, and discovers that Estella is the daughter of Magwitch and Mr. Jaggers' housemaid, Molly, whom Jaggers defended in a murder charge and who gave up her daughter to be adopted by Miss Havisham.
Pip learns that Miss Havisham's fiancé jilted her, resulting in her strange behaviour and desire to avenge mankind by using Estella to break Pip's heart. He confronts Miss Havisham with Estella's history. Miss Havisham stands too close to the fire which ignites her dress. Pip is burned while saving her, but she eventually dies from her injuries, lamenting her manipulation of Estella and Pip.
Police capture Magwitch and jail him, although dies shortly before his execution. Pip is about to be arrested for unpaid debts when Joe pays off Pip's debts. Realising the error of his ways, Pip returns to the forge to propose to Biddy, Joe’s housemaid, only to find that she and Joe have married.
Eleven years later, Pip visits the ruins of Satis House and meets Estella, lately widowed after fleeing her abusive husband. She asks Pip to forgive her. Pip takes Estella's hand and together they leave the ruins of Satis House forever.
The Players:
Adult Pip – Mr Paul Nivison
Estella – Miss Grace Rowe
Miss Havisham – Miss Paula Wilcox
Young Pip – Mr. Taylor Jay-Davies
Joe Gargery – Mr. Josh Elwell
Mrs. Joe – Miss Isabelle Ross
Wopsle/Wemmick – Mr. Vaughn
Magwitch – Mr. Chris Ellison
Camilla Pocket – Miss Allen
Cousin Raymond/Bentley Drummle – Mr. Glen
Biddy – Miss Susan Robertson
Jaggers – Mr. Jack Ellis
Herbert Pocket – Mr. Warrington

Creative Team:
Adapted for the stage by Miss Clifford
Directed by Mr. McLaren
The dresses by Miss Gosney and Mr. McLaren, with couture elements provided by Signor Giovanni Bedin
The lighting effects by Mr. Kai Fisher
The musical accompaniments by Mr. Slater

“Marley was dead, to begin with” I had already used, most successfully. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” I had also pressed into service, and it would have been churlish to expect my readers to swallow it again. “To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I recall that I was born” did indeed have a certain noble ring about it, and yet it seemed to me that although it would be indeed a splendid beginning for a tale narrated in the first person, it would perhaps be better set aside for a time for a novel as yet unpenned. And so I chewed my pen some more that winter afternoon, as the coals settled ever more comfortably into their fiery bed and thought some more, eventually deciding that the opening phrase of the latest addition to the line of fine, leather-clad volumes marching their way across my bookshelf like a regiment of soldiers in the service of Literature would be
'My father's family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip'
And so it began, my latest novel, each page the progenitor of a brood of followers eventually numbering over 600. And this blotted and scribbled bundle of papers was wrapped in cloths and smuggled from the house during the quiet, owl-haunted hours of the night as if it were the misshapen bastard of the under-housemaid, delivered into the kind, patient and trusted hands of the surgeon-editor, by whom my child would be cossetted, primped and snipped and finally dressed in fine, new clothes, and brought forth into the world in a presentable fashion to be admired by its loving, literary papa. And then, having no other use for it, for it had served its purpose of confirming me in the admiring minds of the British novel-reading public as their household god of the written word, I turned it into a play, whereupon it became sickly and weak, and I finally cast it from my bosom and thought of it no longer, for I was almost at once occupied with with the tribulations of producing yet another ink-blotted and scribbled child.

And then, many years later, a lady writer of the name Jo Clifford looked full and pensively at my child and wondered if it might be suited for a career upon the boards of the stage once more, enduring the wretched, unending sleepless nights of any parent as the pale moonlight streamed thought the latticed casement, cutting and shaping and reforming and discarding, until my little child was set down upon once more amongst the mummers and the greasepaint and the baskets and backcloths of a theatre in the city wherein it took its first faltering steps. And as I sat there in the warm and comforting darkness of the auditorium, surrounded by the rowdy restlessness of the cloth-capped ruffians, doxies, confidence tricksters and latecomers who had paid their pennies for the gallery, a variety of thoughts pursued their paths across my mind. For this child of mine, in it first and original raiment, was a long and complicated fiction, peopled in the main by a throng of finely yet briefly sketched puppets alongside their more important, fully-fleshed fellows, whose complicated lives twisted and turned and and struggled through many pages and chapters. And,with the ferocity of the surgeon’s scapel, Miss Clifford had excised them all, rending them bodily from the page, lopping their limbs and heads and arms until, if they remained at all, they briefly flitted across the stage like so many ghostly wraiths issuing from their graves yet disappearing the very instant they had appeared, their small parts in this complex and many-layered history reduced to a gasp of breath, if breath they kept at all. Indeed, any person there present who had not familiarised themselves with my narrative in advance of seeing it portrayed thus upon the stage may well have become somewhat obfuscated as to many of the scenes being played out before them. And yet, it seemed to me, denuded of much of its corpulent flesh, the very bones of the story stood strong and firm and white, as if saved from the charnel house and set upon the living stage. For indeed, I saw that I had brought forth into this world a story capable of surviving such harsh and unforgiving treatment at the hands of others writers less magnficient than I.

And indeed, their brief home upon the stage was decked in such lordly raiment as would befit a far greater child, for eschewing the difficulties encountered by changing the scenery as often as the moon changes her ghostly visage across the span of the hours, the lady writer saw fit to cleverly set the entirety of my tale within the picture most often brought to mind by those who have read my child; the ghostly and spider-whiskered dining room of perhaps its most memorable character; the poor, jilted, heartsick chatelaine of Satis House, doomed forever to stare at the rotting bride-cake among the timeworn ruins of her ill-fated wedding feast. For indeed this is a wonderous thing in all its decaying beauty, its mouldering mint and granulating gold, with great gaps in the rotten walls for my puppets to appear from and use as doorways into their brief world, lit by the guttering candles festooned with webs placed around the room like so many cadaverous footmen around the rotting feast. And wonderous and enchanting use was made of the table upon which the ghastly banquet was set (notably of the fateful journey down the dark and treacherous waters of the Thames), and of the fine mirror set above the fireplace from which my Miss Havisham made her first entrance, a knowing and cunning reference to the way in which she would make her untimely exit from this world. And the music which played upon the scenes sparkled like the freshest dew upon the mornng leaves, and the design of the lighting was as wonderous as the the daily rising from the east of the chariot of Apollo. The clothes in which my characters were arrayed were fine and trim, bedecked with the webs of the spiders that scuttled through the mouldering wainscotting, giving the impression that they had been called forth from the dark recesses of their literary graves by the recollections of Master Pip and Mistress Estella who had returned to the dining room of Satis House to call forth their memories of the adventures that had befallen them there so many years before. Indeed, there was a ghostly, almost gothic atmosphere about the entire proceedings, giving the work a fine flavour of doom, and dust, and decay, which I confess seemed to be somewhat missing from my original manuscript.

The clever actress Miss Wilcox, portraying my Miss Havisham, gives a remarkable and affecting performance, although it did seem to me that she was in possession of rather more of her wits than in my novel; for here she is somewhat lucid and calculating an oh! how it does irk me not to see her clothed in the appropriate wedding attire – for my poor Miss H, having intended to sail forth upon the sea of matrimony bedecked in the finery appropriate during the time of the old Regency, is once again clothed in the “modern” style of the mid 1870s. Her ward, Miss Estella, is played competently enough by Miss Rowe although indeed does try much too hard to make her one onto whom we might bestow our sympathies; my original is colder, brittle and hard like a sheet of ice that stealthily creeps across the silent millpond during a dead of winter’s night, shining invitingly that one might don one’s furs and skates, and take a single treacherous step upon its surface. Mr. Ellison shows the heretofore undsicovered humanity of the wicked criminal Magwitch (and indeed his climatic scene was portrayed in such affecting stillness as to silence even the fishwives and their ruffian consorts who had constantly gossiped and fidgeted through much of the performance to my chagrin. The young Mr. Jay-Davies makes a sterling portrayal of my young Master Pip and there is much to recommend Mr. Ellis who storms the stage and wraps the entirety in webs of legalese as the cunning lawyer Mr. Jaggers. Indeed so clever is his portrayal that, though but a relatively minor character, we leave the theatre duly impressed with the idea that Mr. Jaggers is indeed the puppet master making the dolls upon the stage dance as he wishes them to. My sympathies are directed towards Mr. Nivison, playing the older version of Pip, who is given little enough to do save at the very beginning and the very end; having set the wheels of my plot in motion by reminiscing about times and adventures past, he is forced to linger upon the stage like some untimely ghost denied the solace of Christian repose through lack of decent burial.

There is, in short, very much to recommend about Miss Clifford’s adaptation of my work for portrayal upon the stage, save for the somewhat murderous butchery necessary in pursuance of cramming my enormous, unwieldy child into the brief compass of a duo of hours. Indeed, it may be thought wise to pursue a thorough study of the story beforehand that one may follow the perigrinations of the story and not become most thoroughly bewildered. A fine evening, my masters and mistresses of the theatrical arts, whether those of you visible to the paying crowd or those who serve their particular muse in the dark and imp-haunted corners of the theatre.

The author extends his thanks to the fine Mr. Brick (who possesses such an interesting name that I do believe I shall find use for it to christen some future offspring of my fertile mind within an as yet unwritten tome) and his excellent company of ShowsInLondon for bestowing the wherewithal to attend this production and entertain you, dear Reader, with these poor wandering thoughts which are offered for your consideration and delight. The author’s companion, a fine lady of no small experience of the theatrical profession herself, graciously extends her thanks to your esteemed organisation and bids me express them to you on her behalf.

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