This year they are performing in the charming gardens of The Geffrye Museum surrounded by beautiful 18th Century Almshouses. This is an inspired and perfect setting as it conjures up period London as Dickens’ complex play unfolds before us.
Mr. Willmott, who adapted and directed this production, has cleverly added a short prologue extolling the virtues and inventions of the Victorian Machine Age, including inventor Herbert Pocket’s steam driven “Duke Box” which provides the production’s sound effects and inspires the title A STEAM PUNK GREAT EXPECTATIONS.
Another inspiration by Mr. Willmott is his decision to employ narration in his adaptation. This is the solution to the difficult task of condensing the epic scale of Dickens complex characters and plots in a novel of over 550 pages to a stage play of 2 hours, something that besets most previous stage adaptations. Interesting to note that this novel and DAVID COPPERFIELD are the only two novels in which Dickens used the narrative style.
The play opens with Pip (an orphan boy, adopted by the kindly Joe Gragery, a blacksmith and his nagging wife, Pip’s sister) being attacked by Magwitch, an escaped convict. Magwitch offers to spare Pip’s life in exchange for some food and a file for the shackle on his leg. From this opening scene Pip embarks on a series of adventures, which take him from poverty to vast riches, and sees him falling in and out of love with Estella, the beautiful ward of Miss Havisham, a demented and vengeful woman who was abandoned by her husband-to-be on their wedding day. Along the way he encounters a raft of colourful characters such as Bentley Drummle, his rich and cruel lodging companion, the violent and jealous Orlick, and best friends, Herbert Pocket and Startop. The lawyer Mr. Jaggers sits at the heart of a complex web of secrets and lies and each new revelation ratchets up the drama.
The talented cast is directed with much exuberance and imagination by Mr. Willmott and includes Darcey O’Rourke (Estella), Sophie Bryant (Biddy), Robert Lane (Orlick and Herbert Pocket), Danny Hetherigton (Bentley Drummie) Harry Edwin (Startop) Jan Olivia Hewitt (Miss Havisham), Jan Shepherd (Mr. Jaggar’s housekeeper and Pip’s Sister) and Willmott himself (Mr. Jaggers) It’s wonderful to see actors giving such committed and polished performances as a company and not as individuals, however, it is fitting to single out Cal Chapman who plays Pip and Matthew Wade who plays Magwitch and Joe for particular praise.
As the company’s name, Free Theatre UK, suggests there’s no charge to watch this production. If you want a very entertaining evening of theatre that’s also the best value for money in town then get yourself to the Geffrye Museum and see this absorbing and unique production of A STEAM PUNK GREAT EXPECTATIONS. You’ll be glad you did.