There’s something about the Dickensian world that appeals at Christmastime, stretching beyond the obvious A Christmas Carol. Trafalgar Studios is presenting Dickens With A Difference – two separate one-actor shows which offer unique twists on two favourite novels.
First up is Miss Havisham’s Expectations, which sees the mysterious and bitter ‘Norma’ Havisham from Great Expectations tell her story. Enter Linda Marlowe in decaying wedding dress, made up like someone who hasn’t seen the sun for decades. The colourlessness is accentuated in the design work (Andie Scott), with a white, silvery and transparent set presented against a black background.
Di Sherlock’s script, delving into the mind of Dickens’ creation, is certainly competent and engaging. Where it stumbles is perhaps because what makes Miss Havisham such an intriguing character in Great Expectations is her impenetrability and enigma. To strip away the layers of the angry long-ago-jilted bride is to start tidying away the rotting wedding cake and cobwebs. Accessing Miss Havisham’s mind serves to make her more ordinary, and her complaints more trivial. Nevertheless, the script is witty, light and often amusing.
Linda Marlowe’s performance shows great technical skill, but we felt at times that it didn’t ring emotionally true, and a few stumbles over lines drew attention to an actor not always in the moment. This may be because the production is encumbered with some unnecessary distractions, including a few magic tricks that provide a moment of spectacle to the detriment of pace and mood. A screen in the shape of a mirror, used to begin with to project an image of Charles Dickens, is fine in itself; but later appearances by Bill Sikes and Estella, with poorly-synchronised voiceover and the inevitable mistiming of cues, ultimately further served to sever the audience from the story and reveal the mechanics of the production.
Running to only just over an hour, Miss Havisham’s Expectations is a short diversion, and will be best-enjoyed by fans of Charles Dickens’ novel who may be on the lookout for a festive theatre outing that offers something different to A Christmas Carol. It runs alongside Sikes and Nancy until the New Year.