In the show program, Eddie Izzard writes that she never read the classics because of dyslexia. Perhaps in order to expose herself, the artist recorded an audio book of Dickens’ Great Expectations. She then asked her brother Mark to adapt the author’s 183,345 word tale into a 105-minute theater iteration. Adapters are never given sufficient credit.
Wearing an ersatz waistcoat, frilled blouse, mini skirt, high laced boots and bright red lipstick (stylists – Tom Piper, Libby Da Costa), Izzard personifies 21 characters with the pared down delivery and astute timing of her stand-up. Sometime accents, facial expression, movement across the stage and gestures – Miss. Haversham’s emphasized by long red fingernails, Estella’s by her nose in the air – distinguish one character from another. Tyler Elich’s lighting indelibly contributes – Miss. H. seems to have her own, unique filter, while Eliza Thompson’s woodwind composition deftly separates chapters.
Bright-eyed Pip’s narration of Dickens’ 1860 serialization arrives with fluency and zest. “My sister having so much work to do went to church vicariously.” “Uncle Pumblechook had hair obviously arranged by a dying relative.” Lines like these elicit constant intermittent laughter. Izzard allows for it with silent beats.
We follow orphaned Pip from awkward association with rich, bitter Miss Haversham and her beautiful, adopted daughter Estella – brought up to wreck revenge on men, to the hero’s “great expectations” of becoming a gentleman. The boy assumes largess comes from the old woman. In fact, it’s facilitated in anonymous repayment of a childhood gesture. Through the aegis of lawyer Jaggers, he leaves modest country life for an apartment share in London with his new tutor’s son, Herbert Pocket, also finding friendship with legal clerk Wemmick. By the time Pip comes into his income at 21, despite the two right-headed young men, he’s grown profligate.
Act II brings the unexpected appearance of Pip’s convict benefactor Magwitch and his nemesis Compeyson (secretly intrinsic to Miss Haversham’s story), the discovery of the identity of Estella’s mother, moral adjustment, an attempt to help Magwitch escape, and a new life expedited by Pocket which might include Estella at long last. Though more specific stage business might better correlate with characters, the story’s complications are for the most part clear.
Eddie Izzard is masterful with timing. This production, far less elaborate than Jefferson May’s brilliant one man A Christmas Carol, nonetheless offers a most entertaining evening of Dickens at his best. (Interestingly both productions eschew sentiment.) The Izzards might consider tackling another novel for next year’s holiday.
Tom Piper has hung what appear to be dirty, moth-eaten curtains floor to ceiling at the theater’s side windows and red velvet drapes on stage. A single arched door frame and chandelier are all we need to evoke the period.
Director Selina Cadell skillfully uses the small staging area with variety.
Music before the play and at intermission is unfortunate in its choice taking us far from lingering mood.
Photo by Carol Rosegg
Eddie Izzard Performing Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations
Adapted for the stage by Mark Izzard
Movement Director – Didi Hopkins
Director – Selina Cadell
Through January 22, 2023
Greenwich House Theater
27 Barrow Street