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Great Expectations

Charles Dickens

Adapted by Nick Omerod amd Declan Donnelan

24 Nov - 1 Dec 2018

Shaun Hughes


Synopsis

Great Expectations was Charles Dickens’s thirteenth novel. It was first published in weekly instalments in his periodical All Year Round during 1860 and 1861, before appearing in novel form. It continues to be a firm favourite with readers around the world. It has been translated into many different languages, and there have been numerous adaptations for the cinema, television, and the stage.

The story centres on Pip, an orphan brought up on the Thames Marshes by his abusive elder sister and her kindly blacksmith husband. A secret visit to his parents’ grave brings Pip into contact with a serving convict, Abel Magwitch, whom he helps to escape. Pip then embarks on a colourful adventure which sees him elevated by an anonymous benefactor into the life of a London gentleman. Along the way he encounters some of the most memorable of Dickens’ characters. The story deals with a host of themes that include love, benevolence, loyalty, treachery, revenge, and the manipulation of others. It has an ending that can be interpreted as happy, although that is not necessarily what Dickens originally intended. Our production is of the 2005 adaptation by Nick Ormerod and Declan Donnelan for the Royal Shakespeare Company. It brings the story to the stage in a fast moving and highly accessible way, and brings to life all of the book’s most engaging characters, including the tragic Miss Havisham, jilted so cruelly on her wedding day; her ward, the beautiful Estella, whom she has taught to despise men; Joe Gargery and Mrs Joe; the lawyer Mr Jaggers and his clerk Wemmick; Pip’s best friend Herbert Pocket; Miss Havisham’s treacherous fiancé Merryweather Compeyson; and many others as well as Pip himself, and the convict Magwitch, who eventually reveals an astonishing secret. This is the first occasion on which this adaptation has been presented at Lewes Little Theatre. It promises to deliver a performance of absorbing entertainment.

Audition

Audition Sat 28 July 2018 2:00pm foyer
Audition Sun 12 August 2018 2:00pm foyer

I was drawn to Dickens some time ago, attracted by the stories filled with outrageous characters, larger than life, and yet still encapsulating all the best and worst human attributes. Like William Shakespeare, Dickens can tell a great story, bring you to tears with pathos and heart felt emotions and lead one to self examination. Truly a great writer, Dickens is still giving us the heart warming stories we love to revisit. I enjoyed this version when I first encountered the piece and have at last been given the chance by Lewes Little Theatre to show an audience a passionate story from the author often stated to be the ‘father of Christmas’. Pip lives with his sister, Mrs Joe and brother-in-law, Joe Gargery the blacksmith, on the Kent marshes. As a young boy, Pip is invited to Status House to meet Miss Havisham, a rich jilted lady who has a fancy to see a little boy ‘play’. Pip plays cards with Estella, Miss Havisham’s ward and immediately falls in love. However, Pip learns the disappointment of rejection from Estella. He visits the house many times during his boyhood, eventually meeting Herbert Pocket Esq, whom he fights and will meet again under different circumstances. Pip grows up and is indentured to the blacksmith to learn a trade, till one day Miss Havisham’s solicitor, Mr Jaggers, arrives and informs Pip that he has inherited a fortune. So his adventure begins and he turns his back on his humble beginnings and strives to better himself and become a gentleman in London. He leaves Kent behind and ventures into the metropolis where he meets Mr Jaggers again and is made aware of his monthly income, but not the name of his benefactor. At his lodgings he meets his cohabitant Herbert Pocket. They become firm friends and enter into society. Estella also arrives to find her way in society having finished her schooling abroad. Pip cannot relinquish his love for her, even when she rejects him for another and marries Bentley Drummle. In his misery Pip is visited by a stranger and all is revealed. The escaped convict, Magwitch, is his benefactor, not as he supposed, Miss Havisham. Magwitch was deported to Australia and returns to see Pip upon pain of death. Pip is perturbed at this turn of events, but stands by the man who made him and they contrive a way to secretly leave the country and return Magwitch to Australia before the law catches up with him. Pip returns to Kent and confronts Miss Havisham for misleading him for so many years and taunting him with Estella. As Pip leaves, Miss Havisham dies in a dramatic house fire, leaving Pip with a deep regret and remorse for having chided her. Magwitch also dies when Pip, Herbert and he try to escape along the Thames. With Magwitch gone, so is Pip’s inheritance, he must make is way in the world with no one but Herbert by his side. Pip’s dream-like story soon becomes a nightmare as only Dickens can write. The play follows the novel closely telling the story in quick short scenes which are fast paced. Dickens’ characters are given fully rounded voice and are full of life in this clever adaptation by Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod. The ensemble style of the piece, with all the actors playing many parts, is reminiscent of the legendary Nicholas Nickleby staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company in the 1980s, and broadcast on Channel 4. A true work of art first published by Dickens in monthly instalments in 1861. This version clearly tackles the big questions of identity, poverty, wealth and unrequited love in Victorian England.

Characters

Pip The narrator of the story who tells of his rise to wealth, his desertion of his true friends for that wealth and his love for Estella, and his humbling by his own arrogance. At the end of the story he has learned that wealth does not bring happiness.

Joe Gargery The kind blacksmith, married to Pip’s sister, who is the moral reference point for most characters in the story. In spite of Pip’s snobbery, Joe remains faithful and loving to him and is always there in Pip’s hour of need.

Mrs Joe Gargery Pip’s cruel and abusive older sister who constantly reminds Pip of all she has done for him following the death of his parents.

Biddy The young girl from Pip’s night classes who helps with Pip’s sister when she falls ill and dies. She eventually becomes Joe’s second wife. She is Pip’s early confidant and understands him well enough to guide him through.

Uncle Pumblechook Joe’s pompous, self-important uncle who arranges for Pip to visit Miss Havisham’s house. A ‘larger-than-life’ character.

Dolge Orlick Joe’s assistant in the forge, who is jealous of Pip and likes to cause as much trouble for him as possible.

Mr and Mrs Hubble Pretentious friends of the Gargery’s who come for Christmas dinner and talk a lot of nonsense.

Miss Havisham The strange, magical, ghostly, reclusive who was ‘left at the altar’ by her fiancé on her wedding day. To exact revenge on all men, she raises her adopted child Estella to be refined and cruel to all. Estella: The beautiful and haughty ward of Miss Havisham, who enthralls Pip from a young age. She is trained to mistreat all men, however, following an abusive marriage, she tries to grow into a kind and loving woman.

Mr. Jaggers An immensely successful London trial lawyer. He first tells Pip of his expectations and serves as his guardian. He was Magwitch’s trial lawyer and is Miss Havisham’s personal legal advisor.

John Wemmick Chief clerk to Mr Jaggers. In the office, he is unemotional but at home he is a caring, kind man who befriends Pip.

Molly The obedient servant of Mr. Jaggers, who supposedly has a wild nature and an infamous past. She is Estella’s mother and only Jaggers and Wemmick know this until Pip is made aware. Aged P: John Wemmick’s comical deaf father.

Herbert Pocket Pip first meets him at Miss Havisham’s when the two have a fistfight in the garden, much to the joy of the young Estella. They later live together in London and become best friends. Herbert is kind, loving, unassuming, and unswervingly loyal to Pip.

Clara Barley The gentle girl engaged to Herbert. She does not care about noble lineages and marries Herbert after her father dies.

Mr Startop A young gentlemen friend of Mr. Pocket. He helps rescue Pip and aids in the criminal Magwitch’s escape attempt.

Bentley Drummle A belligerent gentleman, disliked by all. He marries Estella, beats her, and dies when thrown from a horse. A true scoundrel.

Abel Magwitch A convict who escapes from the hulks and meets Pip on the Kent marshes. He later becomes wealthy in Australia. He returns to London, at great personal danger, to tell Pip he is the source of Pip’s fortune. Pip tries to aid his escape from England, but Magwitch is caught and later dies in prison. He is the father of Estella but he is unaware of her existence.

Compeyson A smooth talking upper class rogue and criminal, who is arrested with Magwitch for forgery, he reveals that he jilted Miss Havisham and swindled money from her. He is Magwitch’s sworn enemy and he betrays Magwitch to the authorities.

The parts require a wide range of ages and performance styles, often moving rapidly between scenes and sometimes changing within the scene. Flexibility and adaptability are the best attributes for any actors considering the play. I will be looking for actors who will rise to the challenge of playing multiple roles within the story. (The part of Chorus will be divided between all members of the company).