REVIEW: Great Expectations, National Youth Theatre, Southwark Playhouse

This gothic interpretation of the classic story by Charles Dickens is performed with great insight by the National Youth Theatre.

(c)Ali Wright

Deeply psychological, this National Youth Theatre production featuring an adaption by Neil Bartlett, is consistently intense and filled with utterly compelling performances from all of the cast.

Great Expectations follows Pip, who is taken from poverty to unexpected wealth. As he comes to terms with being a gentleman and attempts to win the hand of Estella, he is under the impression that his mysterious benefactor is in fact her guardian Miss Havisham, whom he went to visit as a child. Nick Bartlett’s adaptation is gripping and at time slightly frantic to the point when it becomes difficult to keep track of what is happening – but maintains the vividness of Charles Dickens’s writing.

In the programme notes, director Mumba Dodwell stated that with this production she wanted to “ensure that the flavour of our own personalities and experiences are really present.”. This she succeeds in doing by through a combination of a multi-ethnic cast and by gender-swapping certain roles that really works in the idea of highlighting just how relevant this story still is in 2019. It successfully explores themes of poverty, discrimination and even mental health (particularly when as a child Pip is cruelly made fun of by Estella) to bring Great Expectations into the 21st century. Simple touches such as having the ensemble whispering certain words almost menacingly kept the gothic feel while enhancing the psychological elements of the story effectively. Throughout it all Mumba Dodwell adds a fresh new perspective of this story.

Every element of this production has eeriness about it, being extremely evocative in the way the story is presented. Whether it is the addition of mist, or the use of Tom Gimson’s haunting and sinister sound design put to excellent use in the moments in which Miss Havisham is present, this is a strong and focused production.

The performances are all strong and well-rounded. At the centre of it all, Joseph Payne’s Pip is charismatic and thoughtful, capturing all elements of the character’s multi-faceted personality with seeming ease. In particular, getting the balance of his vulnerability at his feelings for Estella but a stubbornness not to face the fact of her true feelings for him is surprisingly moving. Meanwhile, Alice Faranziska delivers a strong performance as the spiteful young Estella, but also captures her growing maturity and intense suffering as Miss Havisham’s adopted daughter is utterly convincing. Meanwhile, Tiwalade Ibirogba-Olulode offers a compelling a deeply complex performance as Miss Havisham, highlighting the contrasting sides to her personality as she plays with both Estella and Pip’s feelings. It is a mature performance from her that offers genuine insight.

This is a deeply mature and fascinating production of a classic story that clearly highlights the talent of all of the rising talent in the National Youth Company.

By Emma Clarendon

Great Expectations continues to play at the Southwark Playhouse until the 28th November.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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