Review: Great Expectations at Cambridge Arts Theatre

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, adapted by Tanika Gupta, performed by English Touring Theatre at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, March 26. Review by ANGELA SINGER.

YOU may see a better production of Great Expectations – but don’t expect it to be for at least 100 years.

David Lean’s film starring John Mills and Jean Simmons was the untouchable, runaway, definitive version for the 20th century and right up until now. This new interpretation by Tanika Gupta, setting the story in India in the 1860s with Pip going to Calcutta instead of London, carries on the flame.

Directed by Nikolai Foster and first performed last month at Watford Palace Theatre, this is the definitive work for the 21st century.

The ragged boy from an Indian village trying to join the society of the white English elite who ruled during the Raj tells the story better than any number of crinolines could any more.

Pip, played adeptly by Tariq Jordan both as a child and as an adult, meets escaped prisoner Abel Magwitch, a black man in chains evoking the power that fear gives you, played by Jude Akuwudike – and he has to be terrifying to outdo the stupendous Pooja Ghai as the frightful Mrs Gargery, Pip’s older sister who brought him up “by hand”.

Tanika Gupta has stayed faithful to Dickens’ sentiments and humour, having Mrs Gargery, bombastic in shape and nature and in complete charge of her gentle giant husband, Joe Gargery, played touchingly by Tony Jayawardena. (Their proportions are like Victoria and Albert). She laments, as she does in the book, the ungrateful boy has rewarded her by having every childhood illness going.

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Estella glides into our lives as she does into Pip’s – see the play just for Simone James’s immaculate deportment (this crinoline means something).

Estella, the daughter of a black prisoner and a poor Indian woman, has learned impeccably at the hands of decaying Miss Havisham (Lynn Farleigh) how to walk and talk as a Victorian English lady. By the end, she sees that what she has really learned is regret.

This beautiful, perfect and gutsy production is a superb interpretation of a story about class.

It will make perfect sense until class and colour no longer dictate your fortune in the world ... unless, of course, you overcome them by great expectations.