Great Expectations (review)

Chris Ellison and Taylor Jay-Davies in Great Expectations. Photo by Alastair Muir.
Chris Ellison and Taylor Jay-Davies in Great Expectations. Photo by Alastair Muir.

The story of an ambitious urchin called Pip who has Great Expectations from life seemed a suitably grown-up way to celebrate Halloween.

Dickens’ classic tale, which opened at The Waterside Theatre on Tuesday, isn’t a horror story but this strangely surreal adaptation by Jo Clifford is certainly nightmarish with some quite disturbing characters and costumes.

It runs like a bad dream of film director Tim Burton with monstrous larger-than-life characters and ghoulish memories of times gone by which return to haunt the living.

Pip revisits those memories when he pays a visit to the now decaying Satis House to try and make sense of his life and his relationship with the cold hearted Miss Havisham and her equally chilling daughter Estella.

Here we have the grotesque reminiscences of a little boy whose life has been blighted by pain. It is a coming of age saga with, unusually, for Dickens quite an unsympathetic central character. Pip is ambitious but, as he becomes a man and is gentrified, he actually turns into a snob and social climber. It takes a harsh dose of reality to bring him back to earth.

This is a stunning production with a superb, slightly off kilter set that sees characters appear from cracks in the wall and behind a painting, while the costumes are equally as spectacular as anything Boz could have sketched.

TV’s favourite cop, Frank Burnside (Chris Ellison) has a compelling cameo as the convict Magwich but it is Jack Ellis (Bad Girls and Corrie) who steals every scene he’s in as the larger-than-life and twice as booming solicitor, Jaggers.

Ellis has tremendous diction, not to mention power in his voice. He’s a commanding presence when he strides onto the stage, supported by a wonderfully debonair, if eccentric, costume.

Paula Wilcox cuts a fine figure as literature’s most tragic of heroines. Her glorious bridal dress and gothic make-up adds to a performance full of pathos. You really feel her pain despite her manipulation of young Estella to have revenge on mankind.

Great Expectations runs until Saturday. For tickets call the box office 0844 or go online www.atgtickets.com/aylesbury

ANNE COX