DoNDo you think beauty is a destroyer of men ?
Great Expectations is a new 1920s set version of the Dickens classic adapted by Yvette Owen of Ashton Hayes theatre club. Staged in Storyhouse’s Garret theatre the retelling of Pip and Estella’s love story has been brought to life with the addition of numerous contemporary songs, performed by members of 3 local choirs.
The opening musical number features the chorus singing from the aisles and if you have an end seat this creates an immersive surround sound effect, before the brutal action of the play begins with Pip’s fated meeting with the convict Magwitch. The play is narrated by an elder weary Pip who moves in and out of the shadows as time moves on, with Pip’s dealings with Miss Havisham and his deepening love for the weaponised Estella. Soon enough, under the direction of the edgy Mr Jagger’s (James Partington, excellent) and his anonymous benefactor, Pip is whisked off to a new life in London. The floppy haired Pip’s move to London comes with a sudden change of accent as well as a new Matt Smith as The Doctor outfit. Only once we reach this part of the play do the 1920s elements come to the forefront with some period music as well as a retro version of “Love is the Drug” by Bryan Ferry and some excellent costumes. The highlight of the first half is the unexpected inclusion of the melancholy classic “Sometime around midnight” originally by The Airborne Toxic Effect. Performed here by the crowd at a party scene to spine tingling effect, the chorus describe Pip’s anguish whilst simultaneously taunting himwith the haunting lyrics of thwarted love. The combination of a 19th century story, 1920s setting and music from the 2000s all serves to bring out the universality of the themes to powerful and emotive effect.
The story unfolds rapidly in the second half with Pip’s benefactor revealed and his triumph over thuggish love rival Bentley Drummie. With events compacted from the original text, parts of the play do feel rushed, and also the stop start narration from future Pip describes rather than shows us the action. However by the time you reach the moving musical finale you won’t care. The striking closing song with a solo from Lesley Halsall brings the happy ending, ( different from Dickens’ original bleaker ending) comes with a striking closing image which will melt even the coldest of hearts. For a while.
Great Expectations is original and engaging , it’s great to see community groups using Storyhouse, which has proved as asset to the whole community.