By Erica Brennan
Great Expectations is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Charles Dickens.
This adaptation by Nick Ormerod and Declan Donnellan was Commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company in London and brought beautifully to life by Bakehouse Theatre.
A beautiful chorus piece where we follow young Pip through his rise to gentlemanhood from apprentice blacksmith and his chasing of cold hearted love Estelle. Bakehouse theatre have done a sterling job and I saw it with opening night jitters! I was quite confused for the first 10 minutes of the play, partly because I didn’t know the story (never read Dickens) partly because the cast member plays out the inner monologue of main character Pip in a tag team style. A line here a sentence there, a crossing of paths and back to the first speaker.
Never fear, director John Harrison doesn’t treat you like an idiot and eventually I got through it and was taken on a stimulating ride through dickens England.
The nostalgic charm of the era was captured beautifully by the design. All props and set pieces were tucked inside various suitcases. All one had to do was snap open the lock and viola a kitchen, a lawyer’s office, a bachelors pad was at our actors disposal.
The opening moments of suitcase play were particularly stunning -but I won’t give it away. GO SEE IT. My only wish was that these extraordinary design pieces were placed a bit more centre stage. I was right down the front and could only catch glimpse of the truly incredible feat it was to have crafted each one individually.
Ducking and weaving their way through this beautiful design was a cast of no less than 15 actors. What a fabulous and unfortunately rare thing to enjoy! 15 bodies all of them dressed in matching bracers white shirts and demure pants, marching all over the space, performing crowd scenes, getting into energetic fights and singing us beautiful songs!
Bakehouse has truly exhibited one of the strengths of independent theatre* in this production of Great Expectations: a large, dedicated, highly skilled cast. And this is one of the things that perhaps Bakehouse Theatre does extremely well. They are able to assemble large highly skilled and dedicated cast that synergise exceptionally well with the text and each other. I saw their Metamorphosis earlier this year at PACT and while unimpressed with the text I was absolutely mesmerised by the ensemble. I haven’t seen such well oiled casts of double digits outside of Acting school lately and Bakehouse sure are bringing it.
I really do hope that the company continues to grow and cultivate their ensemble, it is such a great strength of them as a producing body and collective of artists. If you are looking for a gently ambitious, joyful, crowded, burst of energy please go check out Great Expectations the production at its very least gave me access to a story I probably wasn’t going to read in its original form anytime soon and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. If you had always planned on getting better acquainted with Dickens then go treat yourself to a live performance of it. Great Expectations is still playing it’s an energising live experience and well worth the evening out!
* I say this is a strength of independent theatre because having worked with budgets it’s a thin stretch to try and pay so many actors on equity minimum and thus we see it less than I would like in a ‘professional’ realm. I think I am right in assuming that all involved would be on profit share or small honouree payments. Without money being the deciding factor they have committed to the production for a much more important reason (I won’t be presumptuous enough as to assume I know this reason) and bottom line I’m glad they do it. I wish these artists were all able to make a living from what they do but I really am humbled that they created this rare experience for me to watch.