Aaron Roitman in Great Expectations.
Photo courtesy of Walden Theatre.

Great Expectations

Based on the classic novel by Charles Dickens
Adapted by Nick Ormerod & Declan Donnellan
Directed by Alec Volz

Reviewed by Keith Waits.

Entire contents copyright © 2013, Keith Waits, all rights reserved.

Everybody knows a little Dickens; A Christmas Carol certainly, maybe Oliver Twist. I would venture to guess that few of us have read the original novels outside of school assignments, and many of the stories are known now primarily through adaptations as musicals: Oliver, or Scrooge! Worthwhile entertainments perhaps, but still the easy way out.

Charles Dickens, as director Alec Volz reminds us in his program notes, is one of the master storytellers of the English language, creating complex and densely textured tales that build an entire world around a rich panoply of characters. So read Great Expectations, by all means. But in the meantime, treat yourself to this worthwhile production of the tale. It may just whet your appetite for the original.

The penultimate novel of the great writer’s career is considered by most scholars to be one of his most mature and concise works, but the wealth of characters and incident may still boggle the mind. Yet there is a clear enough through line from young Pip’s encounter with an escaped convict in a graveyard, through his fostering by the formidable Miss Havisham and the cold-hearted Estelle, and his strength of character being forged through fire and adversity. Dickens apparently wrote two endings, and his compromised resolution is still something less than the happy ending modern audiences might hope for. But there is nice melancholy that seems right and true for the story.

The young cast does admirable ensemble work here, sporting confident English accents; and their movement through the complicated blocking is sure of foot. Aaron Roitman is a fine, engaging Pip, his eyes alive with discovery and disappointment in equal measure. Jordan Lee is a lovely and suitably remote Estella (Liam Lloydsmith and Ava Duvall hold up their end nicely as the Young Pip and Estella). Jake Nichols is very good as the tough but tender Magwitch, D.J. Nash is a stalwart and authoritative Jaggers, and Brooke Morrison lets Miss Haversham’s tragedy slowly emerge from the ghostly countenance she carries. A few others that stood out among the large ensemble are Hank Paradis, Chris Lockhart, Travis Ryan and Caitlin Sullivan.

The first act moved well but showed some of the strain of the dense exposition that follows upon adapting Dickens to the stage. The second act felt more developed and featured several nicely played scenes as we delve deeper into the history surrounding Pip’s life. The whole thing works beautifully if you give yourself over to the rich language and layered storytelling that are why we can never leave Dickens behind.   

Great Expectations

Jan 17-26
@ Walden Theatre
Thu, Fri, Sat evenings @ 7:30pm
Sat matinees @ 2:00pm

Walden Theatre

1123 Payne Street

Louisville, KY 40204