In the grand setting of His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen, backed by an amazing, innovative, atmospheric set, local boy Gordi fair did us prood, writes Joan Anderson. Excellent, in fact.
But be warned, dear audience, this dark, intense, intelligent telling of the famous story is definitely Dickens for Adults who aren’t afraid of the boogyman...or woman. You have until Saturday (November 10) to find out for yourselves.
One of Deeside’s favourite all-round entertainers, Gordon Brandie from Ballater has a small titled role (blink and you’ll miss me, he jokes), but is also a stalwart part of the Great Expectations support cast whose spookily choreographed participation in creepy masks and Child Catcher make-up helps weld together the horror of lives wasted in cruelty and revenge with the tale of enduring and stoic love which reaches down and rescues the fragile spirit from the firepit of greed.
Great Expectations follows the fortunes of Pip, a poor abused child who risks everything to help an escaped convict, little realising how it will affect his whole life, as does his association with the wealthy and warped jilted bride Miss Haversham, whose heart and life have been frozen in time and cobwebs since she was unceremoniously dumped on her wedding day.
Miss Haversham’s beautiful ward Estella has been trained from birth to break men’s hearts, including that of the hapless Pip, but the whole tale turns on a pivotal moment when Estella goes off-message and falls for a man with a heart naturally colder than hers...and that’s where Gordon Brandie makes his memorable mark, made possible by Jo Clifford’s stunning adaptation which puts the evil wife-beater Bentley Drummle on the theatre stage for the first time.
In a few short minutes, Gordon smoothly and hatefully portrays what Dickens created as a “blotchy, sprawly, sulky fellow”, with the looks of a spider and the movement of a slothful amphibian. It’s a million miles from the funny, romantic heroes we connect with Mr Brandie, but what a triumph of acting range and ability that is almost certainly destined for London’s West End with this very production! Weel deen, Ballater loon.
In the main plot, a collection of very famous names give chilling, thrilling portrayals of the central characters with a superb permanent set that demands – and gets – the best out of everyone, including the audience who fairly have to keep up, mentally, without the usual aide memoire of changing backdrops.
Some knowledge of the Great Expectations storyline was a big advantage, but I overheard some enthusiastic students on the way out discussing the fact that they knew absolutely nothing of the tale, but had thoroughly enjoyed the telling in the hands of such a skilled company...even though they were patchily none-the-wiser and were now resolved to read the book. Result!
Aberdeen is extremely lucky to be the only Scottish city to host this version of Great Expectations...a production that lives up to its name in all senses of the word. Good luck in the Smoke, folks.
In connection with the Dickens Trust, a royalty share of the box office takings from Great Expectations goes to organisations dealing with issues the author cared about, including prison reform, adoption and literacy. Tickets from www.boxofficeaberdeen.com, or 01224 641122.