Review: Great Expectations, Derby Theatre

I was expecting a great night out from Derby Theatre’s autumn production but it was so much more – a visual feast that raised the hairs on the back of my neck.

Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations by Neil Bartlett is storytelling theatre at its best, and combined with the slick direction of Sarah Brigham and the haunting set designed by Barney George it becomes a masterpiece.

Great Expectation remains a story of self-discovery told by some of literature’s most iconic characters and Bartlett’s adaptation focuses on the guilt, love and forgiveness felt by the main protagonists – the orphan Pip, the wealthy Miss Havisham and her adopted daughter, the haughty and beautiful Estella. Bartlett’s script is chilling, yet tender, punchy and not without some humour.

The acting by the whole company of performers was superb, but Polly Lister’s Miss Havisham was something else. She was electrifying as the wretched, heartbroken spinster and gave a performance that left me open-mouthed in awe.

Brigham will have had a vision of how she wanted to portray Barlett’s work and with the skills of designer Barney George, Ivan Stott’s sound compositions and lighting by Tim Skelly she must have achieved something beyond even her dreams.

The set was subtle and poetic conjuring up both the melancholic, misty marshes and the decaying grandeur of Satis Hall.

So as not to spoil the most dramatic moments there is much I can’t say, but be assured that this arresting play is one you don’t want to miss.

The company are Robert Beck as Magwitch; Geoffrey Breton, Pip; Bryn Holding, Herbert Pocket; Michael Lambourne, Mr Pumblechook; Polly Lister, Miss Havisham; Jack Quarton, Joe Gargery; Helena Rimmer, Sarah Pocket; Kate Spencer, Estella and Ella Vale, Mrs Joe.

The rest of the production team are Ian Stapleton, Kay Magson, Beth Williams, Zoe Saunders, Mason Walter Cooper and Robert Day.

Great Expectations can be seen at Derby Theatre until October 21. For tickets go to