The author warns us, through his title which comes to assume an ironic force, to place no trust in surface illusions of class and money. Our basic personality is shaped in youth and cannot change in its essence; all we can do, as Pip does from bitter adversity as he looks back on his life in order to make sense of and account for it, is learn from experience how best to deploy our talents and neutralise our weaknesses.
Quantum Theatre is a touring company from SE London and here they were in the bucolic gardens of Waterperry Gardens on a chilly, windswept evening. We found a raised set of brown, sloping boards topped by a broken clock that doubled as the village graveyard, Miss Havisham’s Satis House, The Jolly Bargemen Inn and numerous undifferentiated locations in London.
The famous opening in which the young Pip is terrorised by the escaped convict Magwitch makes little impression, alas, as we are swept off on a potted canter through Pip’s early life on Romney Marsh. Here lies the problem: it very soon becomes apparent that this adaptation’s script and our five actors – one a capable stand-in for the hobbling Stacey Davenport, injured a couple of days earlier - have limited their ambition to a headlong rush through the main incidents of the book in vaudeville, almost pantomime style.
The pre-interval canter becomes a second half gallop all the way to the bathetic conclusion. Thus characters like shopkeeper Pumblechook and parish clerk Wopsle are introduced and then dropped to no purpose, while major figures like Jaggers and his clerk Wemmick, living symbols of the moral quagmire of London life, are given nothing to do and Joe Gargery, Pip’s brother-in-law and a constant reminder to Pip in his snobbery of the real nature of a gentleman, is the merest cipher.
Pip, the work's hero and victim, is played by the ever-present Chris Fay with great energy but no sense of how he grows and develops. The rest of the cast cope man- and woman-fully with their bewildering variety of roles. Edwin Wright is a breezy Herbert Pocket and Fay Henall has a decent stab at Miss Havisham, though her death passes all but unnoticed in the rush.
The taped music is fairly relentless, and the minimalist props (including a rubbery wedding cake) and odd costumes (we were told that Pip had a new suit of clothes for London but saw him actually dressed like a scarecrow) rather added to the impression of modest imagination being brought to bear in probing one of our finest novels to discover anything beyond its basic narrative.