Great Expectations @ WAAPA’s Geoff Gibbs Theatre

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By Samuel J. Cox

Essentially the theatrical embodiment of Drake’s track ‘Started From The Bottom’, Charles Dicken’s (1812-1870) classic work has been vividly brought to life by the 3rd year acting students from the West Australia Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA).

Adam Sollis plays Philip Pirrip, or Pip, the protagonist based on Dickens himself (after ‘David Copperfield’, this is Dickens’ most autobiographical novel), who rises above his station and forgets his roots. Living with his sharp-tongued sister and working at a job he hates in the country, Pip believes he can improve his circumstances and advance in life, he has ‘great expectations’ about his future (hur hur hurr). When a mysterious benefactor unexpectedly sweeps him off to London, he ends up hurting the ‘common’ people from his childhood while trying to live up to his ideal of a gentleman.

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Pip embodies George Bernard Shaw’s belief that ‘life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.’ As befits a bildungsroman (a popular style of nineteenth-century European fiction depicting growth and personal development), he ultimately learns Mary Quant’s great truth; having money is like being blonde. It’s more fun but not vital.

Set in Victorian England (with period costumes and accents), and directed by Associate Professor Andrew Lewis, the complex and layered coming-of-age play sees Pip become entangled in the lives of number of memorable characters, including the convict Magwitch, and the damaged and bitter Miss Havisham (Alexis Lane), a slighted corpse bride whose idea of love as blind devotion and humiliation is poisonous. She raises the haughty and proud Estella (successfully encapsulated by Emma Diaz), having stunted her emotional growth, and turned her into a weapon with which to torment men and ‘break their hearts.’

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The best feature of Nick Ormerod and Declan Donnellan’s new stage adaptation is the inclusive chorus it employs, who narrate the action, embody minor roles and create much of the set. Using few other props, they economically and inventively create a vivid picture as the action moves from a churchyard to the big smoke and back again.

While they struggled to be convincing in the gloomy tragedy’s more dramatic scenes, the budding stars of the future were fantastic, and Alexis Lane starred as Havisham.

‘Great Expectations’ runs until August 28.

Images by Jon Green.

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