Shifting Sands, Great Expectations

Review in Issue 18-3 | Autumn 2006

Some actors, just by the way they look, are destined to play certain characters. In Gerry Flanagan’s case it was always going to be Magwitch, the anonymous criminal benefactor of young Pip in Dickens’s Victorian morality tale of wealth and social climbing. It’s no mean feat to take on one of the world’s classic stories, distil it and then retell it on one of the tiniest stages in the country with a cast of only three actors. Shifting Sands have risen to the challenge and in this piece, which is a mix of melodrama, cartoon and physical theatre, take the audience on a high-speed journey through the gloomy world of poverty and aspiration of Victorian England.

The individual performances are very satisfying, notably those of Sophie Russell, and together with the ingenious use of simple costume and set changes, convey perfectly the mood of each twist and turn of the tale. The lighting is especially good, sometimes bright and cheery but often dark and at times lit only by candle. You get the sense that you could be watching the play in a little theatre somewhere in 19th Century England. The audience in the Rondo in Bath were completely absorbed, and surely there can be no greater compliment for any piece of storytelling. Even my twelve year-old son, a fully paid up member of the computer-game generation, was engrossed throughout.

But I do have to say that I felt that the piece, at well over two hours, was too long and at times over-indulgent, with a few too many knowing winks and nods to the audience. That sort of pantomime style is inappropriate to this piece, which stands up strongly enough on its own without added frippery. But overall, Great Expectations is a compelling production presented by hugely talented performers – a wonderfully inventive retelling of Dickens’s bittersweet tale.

Presenting Artists
Presenting Venue
Date Seen
  1. Apr 2006

This article in the magazine

Issue 18-3
p. 30