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Great Expectations brought to Norwich stage

PUBLISHED: 08:58 09 March 2012

Great Expectations

Great Expectations

Archant

This year is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens. When better than to bring Great Expectations to Norwich? ABIGAIL SALTMARSH talks to producer Claire Bibby.

In recent years Claire Bibby has carved out a successful career in theatre production but when she decided to stage Great Expectations, she sought the help of someone with family connections.

The Norwich-based Baroque Theatre Company is about to embark upon its spring tour and will see its opening nights take place at the Maddermarket Theatre.

Acting as a consultant through both planning and rehearsal stages has been Charles Dickens’s great-great-grandson, Gerald Dickens.

And, says Claire, he has been able to give the actors and production team an insight into the way the great novelist might have wished to see his story staged.

“Gerald has been a great help,” she stresses. “I have worked with him before and he has been there for us this time if we have had queries on dialogue or costume.

“He has been attending rehearsals and working with the team, offering us his advice.”

Gerald, who lives in Kent, is an actor, director, producer and storyteller.

In 1993, he created his first one-man show, a theatrical performance of A Christmas Carol, inspired by Dickens’s own energetic readings of the 1860s.

A continued fascination with the life and works of his great-great-grandfather then led him to write and direct further one-man shows including Mr Dickens is Coming! Nicholas Nickleby and Sketches by Boz.

The Baroque Theatre Company takes a traditional approach to Great Expectations. Adapted by Hugh Leonard, the play has been directed by award-winning director Adam Morley, whose work has been nominated twice at Cannes Lions International Festival of creativity, winning in 2006.

As an artistic director, Adam also won an Editors’ Choice Award for best new venue, at Edinburgh, in 2008, and directed the winning show – Writers Avenue 11 – in the National New Writing Festival.

The plot of course is familiar. Young Phillip Pirrip — known as Pip — helps the escaped convict Abel Magwitch and sets in motion a train of events that will affect his entire young life.

Taken under the wing of the eccentric Miss Havisham, he falls in love with her ward, the chilly Estella, and determines to become a gentleman. Receiving money from a mysterious source and expecting more, Pip renounces his humble past life and feels sure he will achieve his aim – and then the true identity of his benefactor is revealed and a painful process of moral education begins.

Bringing to life all the vivid characters of the original and conveying the story with clarity, atmosphere and plenty of theatrical flair, Leonard’s adaptation is both exciting and haunting.

“Our production is very true to the novel and retains all the humour of Dickens,” says Claire, who will take the play on tour until June.

“This is a well-loved story. People have read it at school and university, and we want to bring it to life for them again.”

The tale, of course, focuses on young Philip Pirrip, known as Pip, who helps escaped convict Abel Magwitch and sets in motion a train of events that will affect his entire life.

Taken under the wing of the eccentric Miss Havisham, Pip falls in love with her ward, the chilly Estella, and determines to be a gentleman. After receiving money from a mysterious source, and expecting more, he renounces his humble past life and feels sure he will achieve his aim.

But when the true identity of his benefactor is revealed, everything changes, and a painful process of moral education begins.

Great Expectations is the third production taken on by The Baroque Theatre Company, which was founded by Claire after she decided on a complete career change.

“I had a commercial background before and only went into theatre in my 30s,” she explains. “Acting had been an interest of mine for a long, long time but it took me a while to gain enough confidence to get up on stage.

“But you only live once and I knew that if I didn’t try it I would regret it – so I did and I absolutely loved it.

“Something clicked and I knew I had to give it a go properly. I realised I was prepared to give up my much more secure, nine to five, work in an office to pursue my dream.”

Claire began with small theatre companies and moved to Norwich where she was able to find regular work. Then, three years ago, she decided to found her own theatre company. “I fell in love with Norwich and decided to stay. There is such a lot of talent here and there are so many great venues,” she adds.

Great Expectations will be the largest of her plays with The Baroque Theatre Company so far, but she is enjoying the challenge. “We have 12 cast members and are visiting more venues than ever before but it is such an exciting production to be involved with,” she says. “We chose to do Dickens as it is the 200th anniversary of his birth, and audiences love him so much.”

And she adds: “People are talking about Great Expectations a lot at the moment. The BBC adaptation came out at Christmas and a film is set to be released this year too. All this interest in the story is great – and our production will just add to that.”

■ The Baroque Theatre Company’s Great Expectations, Maddermarket Theatre, March 9-10, £12 (£10 cons), 01603 620917, www.maddermarket.co.uk

www.baroquetheatre.com

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