The basic story has been given an interesting interpretation in this production by writer Tanika Gupta, who has transposed it to India in 1861, when the country was under the control of the British colonial authorities. Pip is an Indian village boy living with his sister and her cobbler husband, the kindly Joe. Magwitch is an African who came to India as a sailor but was treated badly by the “white devils” and driven to a life of crime. Miss Havisham is an Englishwoman living in a great colonial mansion and the adopted Estella is her “African princess”.
Like most of Dickens’ stories, Great Expectations is essentially about class. The Indian setting only serves to highlight this, with the dual-controls of the Indian caste system and the British aristocracy lording it over the natives. It was an interesting take on the original and featured some really good performances; I particularly enjoyed Tony Jayawardena who played Joe and Jude Akuwudike as a perfect Magwitch. Less convincing, I thought, was Pip (Tariq Jordan); he seemed to discard his old life with barely a backward glance.
All in all, I felt it lacked something, but I’m really not sure what. It was an entertaining evening and it made me feel that perhaps I should read the book again, which is never a bad thing. In any event, to try and fit a great novel into a two-hour stage play is never going to be simple and it is easy to be critical about what has been left out – but that is inevitable Still, it might not appeal to the purists.