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Miss Havisham's Expectations
Published on Friday, 17 August 2012
2

2 stars

Gilded Balloon Teviot (venue website)
Theatre
1-7, 9-14, 16-27 Aug, 3:00pm-4:10pm
Reviewed by Mathilda Gregory

 Recommended for age 12+ only.

Here is Miss Haversham, with the unlikely first name of Norma, strangely and confusingly telling her metatextual tale of how she possessed Estella and Pip and learnt conjuring from Charles Dickens. (Did she? Did she really?) At some points she rails against rewrites – claiming Dickens, in a funk with his wife, cronified her further than he originally intended. She also claims Dickens’s characterisation of women wasn’t all that great. And yet here this show is playing to packed house, on the strength of the name of just one of the women he created.

The iconic Miss Haversham look, a skeletal old lady in a decaying wedding dress, is created beautifully. And the costume design was my favourite part of this show; the two ‘Estella’ dresses are quite breathtaking, glistening like sweetie wrappers. But the same care has not reached all of the production design. Some things really jarred, like the pieces of chalk in a Perspex box (which were part of some ragingly out-of-character magic tricks).

At one point – near the beginning of the show – Miss Haversham even claims she wasn’t that interested in getting married anyway, which strikes me as an astonishingly drastic rewrite. The weird attempt to make Haversham a kind of spunky feminist heroine really undermines who she was meant to be in the novel. Iconic costume or not, it begins to feel like “Norma Haversham” is a new character, with little in common with her Dickensian namesake.

And sadly, the central performance by Linda Marlow is simply not as charming as it seems to think it is, with many juddering changes of mood and terrible jokes. (One about her ‘entering’ Pip springs to mind as particularly cringe-worthy.) A few nice lighting effects – particularly the ones representing the fatal fire – and pretty imagery, including a magic trick resulting in falling snow, make for enjoyable watching.  But other moments, such as the pointless inclusion of Bill Sikes, wear the patience.

There is a glimpse, in Miss Haversham’s conversation with Estella and her imploring of Pip to forgive her, of the more meaningful and thoughtful show this could have been.  But these are moments that follow Dickens’s text closely – making our hostess’s early dismissal of his talents all the more ironic.

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