Thursday, 28 August 2014

Great Expectations - WAAPA (27 August 2014)

In the early going of Great Expectations there is a bare knuckled fight between a young Pip (Adam Sollis) and Herbert (Harry Richardson) started by the latter, won decisively by the former. They much later become fast friends. I mention this because it prompts the thought that I have been watching a World Heavyweight Title Fight all year between the respective third year musical theatre and acting classes at WAAPA. Two evenly matched opponents slugging it out and what a bout it has been!

If West Side Story is the crowning achievement of the musical theatre class in the red corner then the acting cohort in the blue corner have replied in stunning fashion with this production. To extend the boxing analogy, I had a ringside seat, front row centre, at the Geoff Gibbs Theatre. And what a view it was - a brilliant adaptation of the great novel, inventively staged and directed, with superb performances across the board.

The cast of seventeen actors are all given moments to shine as the adaptation features the use of a rotating chorus who vocalise Pip’s innermost thoughts and provide ancillary characters as well as, amusingly, such things as dogs and gargoyles. The cast is in constant movement and this gives the play great energy and a unique treatment to one of the classics of Western literature.

But it’s in the featured roles where impressive performances are everywhere:

Firstly, I doff my cap to Adam Sollis as Pip who is tremendous. From frightened young boy, to disgruntled apprentice, to eager suitor, to a gentleman in London living the high life, to a man whose newfound world crumbles around him as the revelations pile up in the second act, he gives such a likeable and convincing performance in the demanding central role.

Jonny Hawkins is wonderful as Joe Gargery, the simple blacksmith with a big heart. I spoke to him briefly afterwards to congratulate him on the show and his blistering performance in Festen and he said the trade-off for playing the devil in Festen was to play Joe, the complete opposite. He was in high spirits and clearly had fun in the role generating a lot of good-natured humour.

Emma Diaz is radiant as Estella, the object of Pip’s affection. Pip is constantly asked by Miss Havisham if Estella is pretty and yes, Diaz is every bit the beauty here but plays the cold and heartless creature of Havisham’s creation very well.

Alexis Lane is unrecognisable as Miss Havisham with grey, bedraggled hair, dirty wedding dress and stark make-up. She appeared to be relishing the role of the manipulative old woman whose heart was broken at the altar with a mischievous gleam in the eyes that was compelling. 

Jane Watt shines as the (male) lawyer Jaggers and after final bows almost danced off stage and so she should be happy with her authoritative performance. Harry Richardson plays Herbert with a straightforward earnestness that I really enjoyed and Stephanie Tsindos is an honest, straight talking Biddy.

Alex Malone is a vigorous Mrs Joe and really propels the play in the early scenes. Likewise, Julio Machado provides an early comic turn as Pumblechook that sets up the lighter tone that is throughout the play though not so much in the latter stages of the second act as we get down to business with a series of revelations that actually require a lot of exposition and even the odd ‘flashback’ scene, one done very effectively in silhouette behind a white sheet.

Aleks Mikic is brutally in your face as the convict in the opening and has a much bigger presence in the second act as Magwitch makes his presence known to Pip. While a changed man and the source of Pip’s good fortune, he can’t help but be who he was conditioned to be as he attacks his nemesis Compeyson (Alexander Frank) to seal his downfall. Liam Maguire is suitably creepy and resentful as Orlick with Harriet Davies (Wemmick), Henry Hammersla, Joel Horwood, Kirsty Marillier, and Felicity McKay rounding out the cast in various roles and as part of the chorus.  

The buzz at intermission and after the show was one of real excitement. I was talking with three young actors who have aspirations to go to WAAPA and how could you not be but inspired on the evidence of this outing. That and the fact there were two other high quality performances going on in the nearby venues. It was also great to see such good crowds all three nights that I have been at the Mount Lawley campus this week.

Directed by Andrew Lewis (also in high spirits after the show), Adapted from the Charles Dickens novel by Nick Ormerod and Declan Donnellan and featuring WAAPA’s graduating acting class, there is only one show remaining at the Geoff Gibbs Theatre, Thursday 28 August at 7.30pm. If you can get a ticket definitely go and see it - a highlight of 2014. 

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