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Great Expectations Fully Realized

 

Alton Fringe’s production this week of Great Expectations was a rare treat indeed. It was a triumph of performance, the actors leading the audience to many locations – wild, lonely places as well as bustling city streets, humble interiors to the grandest and most rambling of mansions – and through many years, from Pip as a young boy to his life as a young adult. We remained with the actors throughout, the clarity of their performances taking us on Pip’s emotional journey too. Set against a monotone stage, the colourful characters portrayed by the actors sang out vibrantly. The cast filled their roles credibly – even when women were playing male parts and older people playing younger characters. All the performances were very strong. Chris Lang gave a very accessible, warm and controlled performance as Pip, and James Willis, as Joe Gargery, brought much humour to the stage. Alison De Ledesma’s thoughtful portrayal of Miss Havisham contrasted with Hannah Brown’s proud Estella and Tim Guilding’s rough-diamond Magwitch. A jaunty Herbert Pocket from Jo Foulkes, and a motherly Biddy by Tisha Knowles gave strong support to the lead roles.

 

Great Expectations was also a triumph of direction. With Louise Dilloway at the directorial helm, Alton Fringe fashioned a thrilling evening’s entertainment. Physical theatre played a large part, with the actors portraying both the many characters that people Dickens’ story and, excitingly, the environment – whispering graves, stormy seas and creaking doors. Much of the evening’s humour was created by the snobbish way in which the doors in Miss Havisham’s rambling house creaked as if they were looking down their nose at the lowly Pip. The climax to the story, in which there is a chase at sea amid stormy waves, was thrilling to watch and created great suspense in the audience. Throughout the performance, freeze-frames from the ensemble supported the action and made a refreshing contrast to the busy, fast-flowing scenes.

 

The small square of performance-space in which this drama lived among us was used to the full by the actors: entering and leaving from all points, including from the audience, they drew us in and captivated us.

 

Alton Fringe’s creation of Great Expectations was also a triumph of production. Less was most definitely more – stylish lighting brought atmosphere and a sense of place, the set was bare and props kept to a minimum. The fire scene in Miss Havisham’s house was vividly brought to life with lighting, sound effects and effective props. Rapid changes of scene were smoothly effected for the most part so that the story rolled out swiftly and confidently.

 

The remarkable thing is that all this was achieved by a small team in a modest and intimate space. For the audience the experience was compelling as we were pulled into the sharing of the story; we felt that we ourselves were contributing to the retelling of the story as actors’ voices came from all around the studio, including from among the audience; we felt we were providing walls around the performance

 

space, as if we were ourselves providing the physical theatre. It was a safe environment for us, the audience – we trusted the actors, believed in their characters and their story.

 

And through all this – the complexities of the story, the exciting acting techniques, the stylish production – Pip’s calm narration offered an ostenato rhythm providing a secure base for the variations of mood, character and place, bringing the whole performance to a compelling cohesion.

 

A stunning achievement – and a riveting evening at the theatre!

 

 

Kate and Matilda Ferry-Swainson, 26 March 2010

 

Great Expectations Fulfilled.

 

Neil Bartlett’s adaptation of Dickens’ “Great Expectations” demanded some brave experimentation from the Alton Fringe Theatre, but in director Louise Dilloway’s strong hands they took up the challenge with enthusiasm, and delighted their audiences, once again, with their imaginative, even passionate response to the melodramatic tale. On a virtually bare stage, with few props, and dressed entirely in black and white, the company of seventeen created Victorian England for us, from the bleak marshes of Kent to the crowded streets of London, peopled with a whole crowd of characters from every walk of life. Central to every scene was the hero, Pip. In a remarkably assured performance, Chris Lang portrayed the frightened, ill-treated boy, the troubled teenager and the confident young man with energy and conviction. Around him the company, well-drilled in the necessary exactitude of movement and timing, transformed themselves not only into a variety of characters, but even into a medley of sounds and objects. Wind and waves in one scene, bystanders or part of a tableau in another, they muttered or whispered or chanted, forming a chorus to amplify the drama, create mood and suggest setting. They became doors which creaked as Pip ventured down the long eerie passages to Miss Havisham’s room, and which spoke, to jeer, or threaten, or give expression to Pip’s inner voices, emphasising the boy’s vulnerability.  Scenes which called for Dickens’ descriptive power in the book were stylised in the play: Miss Havisham’s death in a blazing fire became a dance, as the company first flicked at her with flame-coloured cloths and then encircled her with a hoop of scarlet.   Alison de Ledesma’s soundless scream as the hoop engulfed her was utterly spine-chilling.

 

                    In this way the audience became engaged by the power of the narrative. We enjoyed some amusing caricatures : Morris Hopkins, for example, played a wonderfully frisky Mr. Pumblechook, and Ann Scott, the mistress of perfect timing, a zestfull Sarah Pocket, alongside a versatile Chris Chappell as Compeyson. Ian Dussek (Mr. Wopsle) was gloriously pious, Jo Foulkes played a jaunty Herbert Pocket who developed into Pip’s loyal, honest and tender friend and Hannah Brown made a pert, imperious Estella, that damaged child. The ensemble work was excellent : doubling and trebling of parts, countless exits and entrances and scene-changes by the company had been meticulously rehearsed, and lighting and stage effects contributed to the emotional intensity of the drama. Finally the manacled Magwitch (Tim Guilding) was revealed as Pip’s benefactor (“I lived rough so that you could live smooth”), and the play swiftly reached its enigmatic ending. Members of the Alton Fringe Theatre can be congratulated on their successful experiment with “Physical Theatre” and on their ability to act together. They are generous on stage both to each other and to their audiences.       J.H.

Reviews & Comments

Many, many congratulations on tonight’s production and performances. Brilliant all round ! Well done !

Please congratulate the cast.

 

 

A stunning production last night and to my mind 'faultless'. Please pass on congratulations to the whole team.

Keep up the good work,

 

 

I had to drop you a line to say how much [we] very much enjoyed last night’s performance.

Not having been before or knowing much about AFT, we were truly gob-smacked within minutes of it starting.

We spent the whole of our hour-long journey home talking about it.

The standard was so high, the acting fantastic and the whole thing just brilliant.

Mrs. Gargery, well I think I might have to report her to the NSPCC for her treatment of Pip;  Jaggers was so believable I might ask him to represent me, and as for Pip, well, words that do justice to Chris Lang’s acting and diction do not exist...

Please pass on our commendations to all concerned.

 

 

[We] wanted you all to know how much we enjoyed your wonderful production!

Please pass on our congratulations to the whole cast and team.

We are so lucky in Alton to have first rate theatre on our doorstep...thank you.

 

 

I was so impressed with your performance!  The whole thing was excellent.  Congratulations on all concerned on a thoroughly entertaining evening.

 

 

Can you please pass on our congratulations to the cast and crew for a

suburb performance / execution of a well known book / play.

We thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward  to your next production.