Condensing the long and involved plot of Great Expectations into a play that comes in at under two and a half hours (including intermission) is no easy feat, but Neptune's artistic director George Pothitos has done a brilliant job of it. His distillation of this epic coming-of-age tale is rich with character development, yet doesn't sacrifice clarity and brisk pacing.
Pothitos frames the piece as a memory play, with Narrator Pip (Stephen Gartner) recalling his life from his days as an orphaned blacksmith's apprentice in the harsh care of his sister, to his unexpected rise to fortune at the hands of an unknown benefactor. The narration allows Dickens' words to come to life, and Gartner, while never upstaging the action, quietly and visibly conveys the emotions each scene brings up within him.
Young Pip (Ken James Stewart) is on a journey from youth to adulthood, a journey which sees him transformed from an insecure, self-centred teen to a man of character and conscience. Stewart gives a believable and winning performance.
Estella (Ellen Denny), the protege of the cruel and eccentric Miss Havisham, calls to mind a porcelain doll. She is haughty and frosty and beautiful to behold. But in Denny's capable hands, Estella is neither stiff nor lifeless—there is a tiny but intriguing spark of warmth beneath her glacial demeanour.
Roy Lewis is superb as the convict Abel Magwitch. He imbues the character with dignity and complexity. However, the question must be raised whether the colour-blind casting of the role is unnecessarily confusing. Lewis is black, and for reasons that I won't reveal lest they spoil a crucial plot point, casting a visible minority in this particular role made an already implausible coincidence impossible.
The stage is filled with captivating supporting characters. Marty Burt shines as Pip's stepfather and his ever-best-friend, Joe. Joe's sweetness, modesty and generosity personify the heart and soul of the play. Matthew Gorman is equally delightful as Herbert Pocket, Pip's warm and funny friend and role model.
The set by Joanna Yu is impressive in its versatility, and is masterfully illuminated by Kevin Fraser's lighting design. Ben Chaisson's projections bring Pip's world vividly to life.
This show is truly a production that surpasses all expectations.
Tuesday-Sunday, To October 4
Neptune Theatre, 1593 Argyle Street