Live from London's West End
Thursday 7th February
This was the first time that a West End show's opening night was filmed and transmitted live, and audiences responded favorably to the new medium with 7,500 people nationwide attending their local cinema to watch the arrival of the celeb-spattered audience, interviews with the Director and audience members, as well as the play itself in its entirity. Attractive enough to those of us within relatively easy reach of the West End, but particularly advantageous to those further afield.
The camera work was excellent, offering a range of views and close ups without missing a moment of action. Less impressive was the quality of the interviews carried out before the show and during the interval, with the insightful and enthusiastic Director being asked questions he had already answered by an interviewer who was clearly not listening to him.
Dickens' epic tale must have been a daunting canvas from which to begin a stage adaptation that wouldn't have audiences aching in their seats. Despite sticking only to the basics of the plot, through the repetition of key catchphrases the characters are dramatically, and at times grotesquely, charicatured into flambouyant portraits of themselves. I wonder whether, without prior familiarity with the plot, an audience member would have understood the intricacies of the purpose each character played in the life of young Pip, but there was no doubt of who was who. Annoyingly, almost every other sentence was addressed directly to the character's name - "What Larks Pip", "I don't want to play Miss Havisham", "Tell me Mr Jaggers" - a structure slightly more necessary in a novel, but wearingly repetitive on stage.
The pace was speedy, and the very many scenes were seemlessly linked with subtle changes of lighting and slick concealed exits around the stage. This was made possible through the excellent set design, which impressed from the moment the curtain opened. With the story told in the style of a memory play, adult Pip begins in Miss Havisham's dining room, complete with cobwebbed wedding cake and imposing fireplace. He remains on stage through much of the action, watching his memories come to life with the audience, and bringing an artistic explanation as to why the many locations dealt with in the plot are all confined to that one room in Satis House. A neat and successful way to deal with this potentially obstructive obstacle of adapting Dickens' work for the stage.
With the overall effect slightly too sylised for my taste, it was undeniably dramatic and made a long and detailed story into a fast paced thriller. Impressive design makes it an enjoyable spectacle, but with a predictable script and exaggerated characterisation it is perhaps suited to be an introduction to Dickens, rather than a treat for exisiting fans.