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Published on Tuesday, 11 May 2010

I was completely bewitched by this inventive and persuasive production, which caught me in its spell from the moment I entered the theatre to the very last second of the play.  I might have held my breath all the way through, so intense was the angst which pervaded.  Built around the character from Dickens’ Great Expectations, it was a perfect reflection of the irrecoverable depth of heartbreak Miss Havisham suffered – and my gaze never shifted from the fantastic scene of the crime.

A bride jilted by letter, which arrives as she gets ready for her wedding ceremony which will bind her fiancé Compeyson to her for life, ironically turns into the story of how she is trapped in that moment of painful recognition. She plays over and over in her dreams the incident which ruined her life, and is capable of no other pattern of relationship now than a destructive one. She persistently recreates the incident with daughter Estella – who is kept under such control that she might be forgiven for rejecting prospective beaus because they cannot be trusted. But out of Miss Havisham’s suffering comes Estella’s redemption; like the ‘free bird’ she spies from her window, she too flees the nest.

Miss Havisham was played by a quartet of actresses in bridal gowns, performing in sync with one another to replicate the broken woman. This was an inspired decision, and one which was carried off well by each actress – all of whom must have worked hard on their individual performance to avoid standing out and ruining the illusion. To their credit, they acted as though it were an easy feat. A remarkable performance was also given by the imagined ‘other woman’ who seduced Compeyson.

Compeyson himself was disappointing; he did not have the presence one would imagine of a dashing beau, and was in my view (and my friend’s) quite wooden. His rendition of Pip was equally awkward, and all the more obviously so alongside the girls’ competent performances. In any case, I think we could have done without Pip; the purpose was to imagine Miss Havisham, not to translate an episode of Great Expectations to the stage.

This is not the first artistic attempt to flesh out the intriguing figure of Dickens’ Miss Havisham, and will likely not be the last. But I thoroughly enjoyed it, and would recommend it as an inspired production and a fabulous example of scene-setting, in which the young actresses offer more than promise in their performance.  There’s just one more performance, so see it today!

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These are archived reviews of shows from Brighton 2010.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.