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Great Expectations

St George’s West, Edinburgh
3 stars
However much Edinburgh’s Queen Margaret University put a positive spin on the decision to scrap the Drama Department of its conservatoire status, the school’s demise remains a matter of institutional shame. One of its greatest losses will be large-scale productions like this Final Year Acting and Performance student take on Charles Dickens’ romp through the nineteenth century class wars as seen through the eyes of Pip, an innocent orphan abroad whose ambitions get far more than he bargained for.

Originally adapted by Cheek by Jowl auteurs Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod for the Royal Shakespeare Company, Bruce Strachan’s new production has all eleven actors on show play Pip at various points via a rolling cavalcade of Poor Theatre ensemble techniques. While clearly designed to showcase each performer’s virtuosity, such a device also punctuates the idea of the multiple selves one explores while navigating through different aspects of life.

At the centre of all this is the larger-than-life figure of Miss Havisham, here an androgynously grotesque oversize apparition played by a blonde-wigged Ewan Petrie, whose skirts drape over the venue’s pulpit like the ultimate authority looking down on all of us as much as on Pip. This sense of social scale permeates throughout, with Lily Carrie’s Estella a proper little madam whose ideas above her station are almost WAG-like in her gold-digging marriage to Des O’Gorman’s ghastly toff Drummie. Such playful inventiveness suggests that all involved in the conservatoire’s final production prior to its own reinvention will do well despite QMU’s ongoing acquiescence. It’s a shame the next generation of would-be actors won’t be able to enjoy such larks of their own.

The Herald, November 26th 2010

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