by Lynn on July 19, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following review was broadcast on Friday, July 19, 2013. CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 FM 9 am to 10 am. GREAT EXPECTATIONS. At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts until  August 17.

The host was Phil Taylor.


1)   Good Friday morning. It’s theatre time with Lynn Slotkin, our passionate playgoer and theatre critic, who has just returned from vacation. Hi Lynn, welcome back.


Thanks Phil.


2) What are you reviewing this week?



Only one show because I got back from England on Wednesday night. Last night I saw a production of Charles Dickens’ huge novel, GREAT EXPECTATIONS, adapted and directed by Michael Shamata. Produced by Soulpepper Theatre Company playing at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts.



3)  Huge indeed. I’m assuming it’s still about Pip and his journey from poverty to being a gentleman and the various trials along the way?



Indeed. A quick refresher. It starts with Pip at 7; orphaned and living with his harping grown sister and her sweet husband Joe.


Pip was visiting his parents’ grave when he is terrified to meet Abel Magwitch, an escaped convict who enlists Pip to bring him some food and a file to saw through the chains that bind his hands and legs. By a lucky chance Pip is asked to go and see Miss Haversham to play with her ward, Estella.


Miss Haversham is a bitter, emotionally fragile woman who was so traumatised about being left at the alter by a scumbag of a man who duped her out of a lot of money, that she wore her wedding dress from that day on and stopped all the clocks at the time of the wedding.


Poor Estella, as a result of such an influence, is proud, arrogant and condescending, even as a young child. She has a cold heart. Pip is captivated by her and it continues for seven years as they continue to play and she continues to disdain him.


As the years go on, he is desperate to become a gentleman to win her. She is sent away to become educated. Pip pines for her but comes into some money mysteriously so he can now cultivate himself.


Not every detail in the book is there, but there are enough that maintain the richness of Dickens’ writing; the complexity of the story; and the emotional depth of the characters. It’s a play about forgiveness, redemption, love, disappointment and finally finding your true love.



4)  Has Michael Shamata adapted Dickens’ before?



He has and he has a definite deft hand at it. He also did A CHRISTMAS CAROL for Soulpepper and it proves to be an audience favourite every Christmas season it plays.



5)  You’re not keen when a playwright also directs his own work. How about when a director adapts his own work?



I don’t have a problem with Shamata. I know that occasionally a director doesn’t know what to cut or leave in and the result can be lopsided. Not in this case.

Shamata has left in the details that tell the story and flesh out all the characters that are focused on. It seems a bit long but it is Dickens and he is wordy of course—he was paid by the word.


But the important thing is that Shamata keeps true to the theme, the emotional centre and the multi-faceted characters, both tender and heartless.


His production is very spare thanks to Shawn Kerwin’s design. A woodstove over there and about eight chairs over here that at turns are the ghost-like tombstones in the village or just chairs, and other simple props. And Steven Hawkins’ lighting is evocative.  Shamata’s staging is efficient and vivid.


Case in point, the bustle and hurry of London with smoke coming from over there as folks scurry with their umbrellas unfurled rushing about. In that short scene we can see the wonder Pip has of this magical, teaming place and how different it is from his former quiet life.



6)  And the acting?



For the most part it’s very good. As Pip Jeff Lillico has come into his own. His voice tends to tremble in emotional scenes, but he gets the security of Pip, his desperation and longing for Estella and his regret at things that happened. And his final scene with Estella is achingly lovely.


As Joe, Oliver Dennis brings out all the tenderness and dignity of a simple, decent man, who loves Pip unconditionally as a surrogate father. It’s some of the most moving work from this gifted actor. You expect so much from Oliver Dennis and he always gives more.


As Estella, Leah Doz is imperious, cold and always intriguing.


Miss Haversham is a fascinating part. She is of course emotionally unbalanced and ruined by disappointment that she holds onto like a precious thing. But I find that Kate Trotter’s performance as Miss Haversham is unnecessarily overwrought and oddly mannered in her speech patterns.


There were a lot of kids there last night. GREAT EXPECTATIONS is  a terrific way to get kids interested in Dickens, whose books are all still in print after 200 years, and this production is a dandy way to get them introduced to the theatre too.



Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s blog at


GREAT EXPECTATIONS plays at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts until August 17.

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