South Hill Park

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Interview with Joe Malyan, Director of South Hill Park’s Great Expectations

September 12, 2019

South Hill Park’s autumn production of Great Expectations (Wed 23 – Sun 27 Oct), is set to be a brooding, dynamic and all round powerful theatrical experience. We speak with Joe Malyan, director of Great Expectations about his creative process and what audiences are in store for this Autumn…

Tell us more about the process of bringing Great Expectations to the stage?

This is a bit of a tricky one to answer as most of the adaptation has been done by the playwright, Neil Bartlett. I actually had four script options for Great Expectations to choose between, and I asked a few of the community actors to come along to South Hill Park in April to read through each script with me. In the ended I selected the one adapted by Neil Barlett (which interestingly, was a script option suggested to me by Caroline Loveys who is playing Miss Havisham, who is a huge fan of Great Expectations). Bartlett’s version of the script focuses on the journey of the protagonist, Pip. The story is told through his eyes. Written to be performed by a relatively small company, in our case 16, but with only 10 principals, the play involves a lot of multi-rolling, with some actors playing three main roles. This is an exciting challenge for our community company and they have excelled in achieving variety in each of their character’s performances.

It has also been written as a memory play, which means it contains a lot of time changes, sometimes over a very short amount of time. Pip starts the production in his thirties, and then ‘jumps back in time’ to when he was aged 7. Throughout the play we see him aged 14, 18 and 21 before he returns to his thirties. This has been a challenge for both the actor playing Pip, but also our costume designer Anne Thomson who has had to create 4 different looks using costumes which can be changed live onstage in front of the audience.

As well as jumps in time, there are also many jumps in location throughout the play, a challenge which the designer, Victoria Spearing and I had tackled by creating an all-inclusive set. This means we are using one location, and relying upon the expert lighting design of Alan Valentine, as well as the re-purposing of various items of furniture to create different locations and different looks. We have also played around with the idea of colour in the design, finally veering away from a naturalism and embracing a monochrome aesthetic.

Why do you think Great Expectations has stood the test of time?

I believe that all of Charles Dickens’ novels are beautifully written. He creates characters who are sometimes both over the top and ridiculous, but also startlingly familiar and relatable. Pip, the protagonist of Great Expectations is a young man striving to improve his lifestyle, hungry for fame and fortune and desperately and hopelessly in love with someone who doesn’t love him – all very familiar ideals for young people today. The audience will be desperately empathetic and also exasperated with Pip and his choices. Again, familiar concepts for modern audiences. The great thing about Great Expectations is the eclectic mix of people and characters, from the nasty, bullying Mrs Joe to the haunting and unstable Miss Havisham, as well as the beautifully simple and kind Joe, and the boyish, naive and lovable Herbert Pocket. There are characters for everyone to love and characters for everyone to hate or fear in this production.

Charles Dickens also shines a very revealing light upon class and class struggle in Great Expectations. The division between the working classes and the aristocracy is examined in detail. In the current political climate in the UK at the moment, I think everyone will see stark similarities in the divisions which were occurring in the early Victorian Era, and those divisions which are expanding in the 21st century across the UK, and around the World.

What can audiences expect?

Audiences should prepare to be engrossed in this fascinating story. As a fan of horror films and theatre pieces, I’ve tried to include odes to horror tropes to really capture the atmosphere that Dickens created in the novel, and hope that audiences will be on the edge of their seats. I also hope the audience is amused and surprised with elements of the production – the staging is so original, and non-naturalistic, so imaginations will be tested to their limits in the best way!

So whether you are a devoted Dickens fan or a novel novice, you have all the reasons to have ‘Great Expectations’ for this dramatic production.

Click here to book tickets or call 01344 484123.