(Role: Pip as a man)
'Great Expectations' at the Belgrade
It is always difficult to put a familiar novel from the mind, as one should, when watching its dramatic adaptation. In the theatre it must stand or fall on its theatrical merits.
Alec Guiness has made a racy synopsis of Great Expectations, which opened for a fortnight at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, last night. He introduces familiar characters in a narrative which must be selective and incomplete. I doubt if it could have been done better. But after all, Dickens, whatever else, was a first-rate story-teller - a tremendous theatrical asset.
It is not, perhaps, quite enough. A story must be told in terms of theatre, with its characters adequately motivated. If we are to be treated to great leaps of time and space in the action, the leaps must have their own cohesion. We must not be submitted to passages of monologue in which the hero explains what has happened between, introducing or dismissing characters whose significance is more easily absorbed from the leisurely pages of a novel than in a brief amplified sentence in a theatre. We have too little time to assess their individuality, to be convinced of their dramatic reality, before we are asked to accept their part in plot or situation.
These are the penalties of the form. Sir Alec knew them: most Dickensians, or even theatre-goers, will probably care little. Certainly the Belgrade Company rises triumphantly to the challenge. Derek Newton, immensely aided by six excellent evocative mobile sets by Brian Currah, has contrived a fast-moving and imaginative production which minimises the episodic nature of the play.
Pip as a boy on the marshes or in that ghastly cobwebbed household of Miss Havisham, Pip as a young gentleman in London lodgings living on his expectations, engages our sympathy. He is played sympathetically by Keith Crane and Alan Howard, whose admirable voice proves no mean asset.
Patrick O'Connell's convict Magwitch, Malcolm Rogers's blacksmith Joe Gargery, Patricia Hope's ice-hearted Estella, establish themselves better than time should allow, and last night's audience deservedly applauded the spritely Herbert Pocket of Charles Kay and the wild, despairing Miss Havisham of Barbara Atkinson. But whether Great Expectations really stands on its dramatic merits alone is another matter. Never mind: last night's audience thoroughly enjoyed it. So, strangely enough, did I.
Birmingham Post, 15.12.59.
Staff Reporter (K.G.)
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