Jo Clifford’s adaptation of Great Expectations, a Charles Dickens classic staged for the first time at the Vaudeville Theatre in West End London, was premiered on the 200th Anniversary of Dickens’ birth, 21 March 2013. Dickens’ great great great grandchildren were present, making it a beautifully poetic event.
Ware Center Film Series had the stage production filmed on 7 February 2013, with red carpet interviews and behind the scenes insight. This enabled a mass audience to share in the premier worldwide. Since the opening night the filmed footage has been screened at 120 cinemas across the UK by Omniverse Vision, who now extends it to cinemas across the globe, including Europe, Asia, America, Australia and South Africa.
In the past it was said that Dickens novels were too difficult to stage and that his work was much more suited for film and television (i.e. the 2011 BBC miniseries of Great Expectations). Perhaps this is the reason why this sold-out adaption marks such acclaim as a triumph.
Renowned Scottish playwright Jo Clifford managed to reduce the 59 chapter novel to a mere 2 hour 20 minute play that was brought to life by director and co-designer Graham McLaren. McLaren maintains the Baroque style both in costume and set dressing, as originally envisioned by Dickens, a style now made popular by film director Tim Burton. With slight adaptations, McLaren managed to capture that haunting enchantment that the novel depicts. The clever use of lighting to accentuate the somewhat grotesque, indicate scene changes, aiding the portrayal of the characters emotional state and the frightening presence of the darkness that lingers within each person. The set in itself was so beautifully grand it received applause, and rightfully so.
Unfortunately, the audience watching the filmed version will never be able to experience and appreciate the majestic atmosphere those witnessing the live production does. Theatre and film are different mediums for obvious reasons. Everything that goes into the planning is aimed at what the medium requires. The camera then picks up seemingly imperfections that are designed that way because of a theatre audience seated so far back. Things like make-up that is used to age, and aid in character accentuated features, looks impressive from afar but close up on film looks messy and dirty.
The same applies to every other aspect of the production, blocking, lighting, costume, set and props. The performances in themselves become too big and somewhat melodramatic on-screen. In the theatre this would project much differently. No doubt that anyone that goes to watch the live production will be enthralled! But the filmed version doesn’t do it justice, because you so rarely get a full stage view. It’s all close-ups, jumping from one character to the other, and any theatre goer knows that there is always so much more happening than the dialogue. At times, especially with the interviews the sound is out of sync with the visuals, tolerable, but distracting none the less.
In all honesty this is something most would expect to be shown on television, and it seems fair to say it makes more sense to watch it on the television, than going out to watch it at the cinema. But it does promote the production, which would seem the true purpose in filming and screening it worldwide. The stage production will be touring, and a definite temptation to watch it live is stirred for those who have watched the footage. You want to experience it live and judging from the footage you won’t be disappointed.
As far as the actual script is concerned, many will criticize that it derives or lacks much of the Dickens novel. Of course, opinions will always differ, and for those that aren’t so familiar with the novel, the Clifford adaptation still projects the themes and emotion that continues to have universal appeal after all these years. This is the tale of a young Pip Gargery’s, played by Taylor Jay-Davies, conflicted rise to wealth and gentleman status for the affections of Estella (Grace Rowe), adopted daughter of the embittered Miss Havisham (Paula Wilcox). It’s a vicious cycle of the shallow, judgemental, empty and ignorant classes. And proves that what makes a man happy and content can’t be bought.
Having Great Expectations often results in crumbled dreams and the lingering scent of disappointment.
This filmed version of Charles Dickens beloved Great Expectations will be in Nouveau cinemas across South Africa for four shows only 7-12 September 2013. Soon Rosebank (Johannesburg), V&A Waterfront (Cape Town), Gateway (Durban) and Brooklyn (Pretoria) get to view Great Expectations live from Vaudeville Theatre in West End London.