THEATRE REVIEW - Great Expectations, Act II Theatre Company, South Holland Centre, Spalding

The cast of Act II Theatre Company's Great Expectations at South Holland Centre, Spalding.

Too much of a great expectation?

What have Ray Winstone, David Suchet, Gillian Anderson, Ralph Fiennes, David Walliams, Helena Bonham-Carter, Sir John Mills, Sir Alec Guinness and Jean Simmons all got in common?

Kelly Sawyer as Miss Havisham, Lottie Gilman as Estella and Morgan Agate as Pip.

Each one of them has starred in a version of Charles Dickens’ classic novel Great Expectations which follows the fortunes of orphan Pip as he encounters escaped convict Magwitch, jilted bride Miss Havisham and frosty sex siren Estella.

It was to this world of moral education that Act II Theatre Company decided to take its younger members at South Holland Centre.

Morgan Agate, previously cast as Gertrude in Act II’s tremendous staging of Hamlet in February, took on the role of Pip, with Kelly Sawyer injecting both mystery and sensuality into the haunted Miss Havisham.

Mention should also be made of the genuine promise shown by Dominic Thorpe (Young Pip), Richard Simpson (Herbert Pocket), Hayley Guest (Mrs Joe) and especially sisters Alex and Lottie Gilman as Young Estella and more mature Estella respectively.

What Act II has always been excellent at is taking the mundane, run-of-the-mill school play and turning it into something that would even give some of the more established and more experience touring theatre companies a run for their money.

However, the question needs to be asked as to whether Great Expectations was a touch too ambitious for such a young and developing cast.

Because while almost all of the cast performed beyond their years to hold centre stage for the best part of two hours, there were several uncomfortable pauses that made one think of the “What Happens Next?” round from TV’s A Question of Sport.

It’s not the first time that Act II has pushed the boundaries of what might be called youth theatre.

Last September saw Act II really push the boat out with musical The Who’s Tommy that left another Guardian reviewer “a little uneasy” about the choice of subject.

Great Expectations won’t affect Act II’s place as possibly the most innovative theatre group in South Holland, but it may be time to consider whether a small step back needs to be taken before attempting the literary might of Charles Dickens again.

Winston Brown

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