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Great Expectations

A tip-top adaptation of a Charles Dickens classic

Written by Charles Dickens
Adapted and directed by Michael Shamata

Jeff Lillico (foreground), Deborah Drakeford, Leah Doz & Oliver Dennis. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

“There was a long hard time when I kept far from me the remembrance of what I had thrown away when I was quite ignorant of its worth.” — Pip, Great Expectations

Known as one of English literature's greatest coming-of-age stories, Charles Dickens' Great Expectations teaches us that ambition can be blinding. Now on stage as part of Soulpepper's summer season, Michael Shamata's adaptation of this beloved story does a fine job of bringing Dickens' characters to life for a modern audience.

Told in the first person, Great Expectations follows Philip Pirrip, otherwise known as "Pip" (Jeff Lillico), a poor orphan boy who lives with his sister, Mrs. Joe (Deborah Drakeford), and her blacksmith husband Joe Gargery (Oliver Dennis). Pip recalls his childhood spent visiting Joe in the forge, when his life was simple and he was happy.

However Pip's fortune begins to change when he steals food and supplies from his sister and Joe to help an escaped convict, Abel Magwitch (Oliver Becker). After this he must shoulder the guilt of lying to them. And he is subsequently called on to entertain Miss Havisham (Kate Trotter), a wealthy spinster living in a ruined mansion with her adopted daughter Estella (played by the adorable young Naomi Agard, and later by Leah Doz). It is during the first of many of these visits that Pip is suddenly ashamed of his clothes and his rough manners, and dreams of becoming a gentleman. Later, Pip receives an unexpected inheritance from an anonymous benefactor and moves to London to pursue these great expecations. In time, he learns that his perceptions of grandeur are not all they seem.

Featuring a minimalist set—a brick chimney and some chairs on an otherwise bare stage—and period costumes by Shawn Kerwin, the production focuses mainly on the performers, with props, such as Miss Havisham's cobweb-covered feast table, carried on and off stage between scenes. This approach is effective, although there is plenty of potential for a more extravagant set.

Shamata gets excellent performances out of the cast, most of whom play multiple characters: Lillico carries the show as the narrator Pip, his boyish charm allows him to play a convincing seven-year-old boy at the beginning of the play. Doz is perfectly cast as both the plain and kind Biddy and as the cold-hearted Estella, while Trotter's tortured Miss Havisham is appropriately ghoulish and pathetic. Paolo Santalucia is a pleasure to watch as Pip's high society friend Herbert Pocket, and C. David Johnson gives a commanding performance as the no-nonsense lawyer Mr. Jaggers. Not to mention Dennis gives a particularly moving performance as the uneducated, but enormously generous Joe Gargary. He also shines as Mr. Wemmick, the split-personality clark who works for Mr. Jaggers.

Great Expectations is a remarkable tale that honours the strength of human decency. Soulpepper definitely meets expectations with this compelling offering.

Great Expectations runs until August 17 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts. Visit for more information and to buy tickets. 

Show Dates: 
Tue, 2013-07-16 - Sat, 2013-08-17
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