Kicking off Royal Exchange’s Autumn/Winter 2023 season is the classic Charles Dickens tale ‘Great Expectations.’ This adaptation however is anything but classic, with writer Tanika Gupta transporting the story to Bengal in 1899.
Ros Maggiora’s set design is simply stunning, arguably one of the finest I’ve seen at the ever-adaptable Royal Exchange Theatre. The round stage is flanked by ramps either side and surrounded by a water effect, on which it appears to float. Although there are no additional set pieces other than a lowering chandelier and clock, this luscious set works perfectly. Lighting by Joshua Carr really brings it all to life, with sound by Arun Ghosh never leaving the audience in doubt of where the characters are.
The acting is universally strong throughout, with Esh Alladi as Pipli being a standout. Alladi succeeds where many actors fail, and believably played a child as an adult without it ever feeling jarring. His every mannerism and demeanour was wholly believable, with subtle changes denoting him aging as the play progressed. Catherine Russell’s Miss Havisham was played traditionally, which worked well in keeping the origin story alive.
It was an interesting choice to relocate the story to Bengal, in a time shortly before its independence. This gave a fascinating take on the classic tale and brought forward ideas around colonialism, race and opposing cultures. Unfortunately, these themes weren’t explored in the depth they could have been. This regrettably made this production feel like a missed opportunity and I longed to see these themes developed further.
Direction was generally well executed. The well choreographed fight scenes gave a sense of believability, whilst live fire in act two added some much needed excitement to the piece. Whilst still an enjoyable evening at the theatre, the book itself lets down this visually stunning show. With themes not fully realised, alongside lengthy scenes, this adaptation didn’t quite hit the mark for this reviewer.
Great Expectations is on at Royal Exchange Theatre until Saturday 7 October 2023. See below for booking information
Photo Credit: Ellie Kurttz
Note: My ticket was gifted. Irrespective of whether a show is gifted or bought, I always ensure that my reviews are fair and based on my honest opinion alone.