Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Review: (Toronto) Great Expectations

Kate Trotter (photo by Cylla von Tiedemann)

Expect the best from Soulpepper
A summer must-see
by Dave Ross

As the house lights dimmed and a single figure stepped onto the stage at Soulpepper last night, I was hurriedly composing myself, having arrived just minutes before. An unrelated family emergency had delayed me, parking had been difficult to find, expensive when I did find it, and I arrived at the theatre with just enough time to rapidly skim the program and get the cast of characters in my mind. I sat there in the gathering darkness, took a deep breath, and turned on the “critic” portion of my brain… “here we go” I thought.

Lillico has the exhausting job of gluing this story together, portraying Pip both as protagonist and narrator, and he does it with such ease.

Imagine how incredibly pleased I was to become completely lost in the story – the heat of the day disappeared, the stress of family melted away, and I entered the incredible world of Charles Dickens.  Soulpepper is known for their high-quality productions, with excellent casting and creative teams. Great Expectations will not disappoint. The adaptation by Michael Shamata is slick, keeping the material and dialogue moving without becoming stodgy, a not-uncommon occurrence in period pieces. The performances are all of very high calibre, with special mention to Jeff Lillico (Pip) and Paolo Santalucia (Herbert/Orlick/Camilla Pocket/Londoner). Lillico has the exhausting job of gluing this story together, portraying Pip both as protagonist and narrator, and he does it with such ease. On stage for the entire production, he never misses a beat. Lillico has an impressive number of credits to his name, including numerous performances with Soulpepper, and it’s clear why he has been brought in for this demanding role. Santalucia effortlessly shifts from role to role, but it is his Herbert Pocket that stands out. He creates Pocket as a perfectly charmingly-befuddled type, and is a delight to watch as a foil to the darkness in Pip’s life. One final mention goes to Kate Trotter (Miss Havisham). It could be so easy to rely on costuming and makeup to become ghostly, decrepit Miss Havisham, but Trotter’s performance drives home so completely how Miss Havisham is simultaneously shattered, manipulative, and fragile. Her first appearance at the edge of the stage gave me chills.

Shamata’s direction ensures Pip is at the centre of the story. Shamata makes this literal fact, shifting set pieces, performances, and lighting around Pip, making him the single fixed point in the story around which all events take place. Lighting by Steven Hawkins and sets by Shawn Kerwin give Shamata the freedom to do this, and it works so fluidly and well that we are moved so convincingly from place to place with only lights and the repositioning of actors. Sound by Michael Laird plays a large role in this production as well, including an almost cinematic soundtrack in places, completely appropriate to the story and not intrusive in any way.

This production is, in short, a must-see this summer. I have found myself frustrated with a recent string of shows I’ve seen, waiting for something to truly take me away to another place. Soulpepper’s talented cast and creative team has delivered this, and it should be no surprise. 

Great Expectations is at Soulpepper

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