By Danielle Farrow
Linda Marlowe is an experienced actress with a great stage presence, detailed physicality and a rich persona, all of which she draws upon to present a Miss Havisham who speaks directly to her audience, those shadows of the future she has conjured for an hour. Sometimes directly telling Dickens’ tale, from Miss Haversham’s viewpoint, and sometimes playing a meta-character who is Miss Havisham waiting on Dickens’ next move, reading books (though not his) and learning magic tricks for children to pass the time. This character has great wry wit and, throughout, Marlowe actually talks to her audience, not merely at them – something many shows could benefit from copying.
Marlowe disconnects a little from expressiveness and believability when she is depicting the young Miss Havisham, with an overly light voice that has nothing of her normal rich tones (though she has no problem when possessing the young Estelle) and there are times early on when it is not fully clear whether it is the meta-character speaking or the Miss Havisham within Dickens’ tale. Di Sherlock’s script and direction do occasionally create little awkward points in overly-flowery passages, though beautifully incorporating relevant poetry and descriptions from Dickens and other writers, and in some distractions from Dickens’ story that feel somewhat shoe-horned in, but a lot of fascinating ground is covered in information about Dickens, his story of Miss Haversham with Estelle and Pip, and the entertaining character of the occultist practitioner of magic who has her own ideas about what Dickens did to her in making her such a celebrated monster.
The staging is very strong: dishes painted on a table’s cloth are clock faces (relating to the passage of time / aging that is highlighted in the play), a cobwebbed wedding cake at the head of the table gains qualities of a grave stone and a standing mirror provides a screen for projected pictures. There are also appearances here of a couple of other characters – Bill Sykes, who is always trying to get in on anyone else’s act, and Estelle – but these are not completely successful and slightly tacky, though Estelle is less so and her final parting does punch. The lighting is also excellent: atmospheric, apt and ably supported by music and sound effects that clearly relate and feel comfortably part of proceedings, not imposed.
Miss Havisham’s Expectations delivers for those looking for a fine production with a strong solo performance that shows what a performer can achieve when focused, passionate, skilled and talented. It also opens up the world of Dickens’ Great Expectations so that people want to read it again or, even, for the very first time – quite the recommendation.