Saturday, 3 October 2015

The Reviews Hub: 'Beyond Expectations', Cygnet Theatre (06 June 2015)

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub

Writer: Charles Dickens
Adaptors: Martin Levinson and Avril Silk
Reviewer: Christy Ku
“What are we but agents in the lives of others.”
Beyond Expectations is a retelling of Charles Dickens’s classic Great Expectations. Untold Theatre seeks to make Estella, one of literature’s most famous femmes fatales, the focal point of their play.
Estella’s birth mother, Molly (Brooke Andersen) has a stronger role in this version. A gypsy in the original tale, the theme of tarot cards runs throughout the show – something the writer Avril Silk may have gained knowledge of through her background of teaching and working with gypsy travellers. Andersen plays both of Estella’s mothers; Molly and Miss Havisham, creating a connection between the two otherwise utterly different characters.

Jaggers (Ben Paddon) is the unreliable narrator of the play, and his thundering cruelty in the story becomes more apparent through his commentary. Paddon manages to channel Jaggers’s dominating nature through holding a powerful stage presence. The cast is strong, but the show fails to dive into the depths of Dickens’s deeply flawed characters. While Drummle (John Hatziemmanuel) is wonderfully vile, Jess Young brings out Estella’s pride and cruelty and Pip (Joseph Rynhart) is perfectly awkward and deluded, there is little else. The delivery of lines is effective, but the voicing tends to be the same tone and volume throughout the show.
Perhaps this is due to restrictions of time; the play attempts to show the entire bildungsroman in an hour and forty-five minutes, which results in rushing through main events to tick them off. Scenes end abruptly when used up and move along to the next one. It would be better to focus on fewer stages of Estella’s life.
The projector is used to create excellent effects, such as the passing of time, the aging of characters and to set the scene. With live singing, the music accompanies the play perfectly; however the lighting is overly obvious with bold, bright colours blazing in.
We gain an insight into Estella’s side of the story; meeting Miss Havisham for the first time, her parents and her education in breaking hearts. However, after being promised the “untold story of Estella Havisham”, it is disappointing not to find out more about her. Anyone who has read the book in some depth would not gain anything substantially new about her. The audience needs to hear her story, not simply the parts where Pip isn’t present. It would be preferable for Estella to narrate her own story, rather than Jaggers.
While Beyond Expectations is an enjoyable adaptation of Dickens’s classic, it fails to put Estella in the centre of the story.

3 stars
Reviewed on 15 September 2015.

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