REVIEW: Miss Havisham’s Expectations, Trafalgar Studios 2 ✭✭✭✭

Last Updated on 15th December 2014

Miss Havershams Expectations

Miss Havisham’s Expectations
Trafalgar Studios 2
11 December 2014
4 Stars

It just takes a moment. She looks off into the distance, compellingly discussing snow falling. There is a piece of paper in her hand and she is, apparently, slightly madly, tearing bits of the paper off and discarding them. Her expression changes subtlety, she moves her head, her poise changes; by now, the audience understand there is something coming. Suddenly, she holds the piece of paper up – her seemingly nonchalant ripping has had a purpose: she is holding a paper facsimile of a snowflake.

Her eyes dart. Her lips comes to life as she starts speaking, making another point. She scrunches up the paper snowflake and holds her hand aloft. Breezily. Oddly. Still talking, making another point, breathing when she needs to do that to keep going. The audience is silent, expectant. There has been magic before, will there be again? Then she starts to rub her fingers together and little circles of paper, resembling snow, cascade from the hand she has held high. It is, indeed, magical to watch. The little circles keep coming, tumbling over her, her hair, her dress, the floor – so much “snow”, far too much for that paper snowflake. Some is lodging in her hair; it is still coming, impossibly. Where did all that “snow” come from? How did she do that?

These are questions which are continually posed in Di Sherlock’s production of her own play, Miss Havisham’s Expectations, which is currently playing at Trafalgar Studios 2. Where did this come from? How did she do that? There are other questions too: why did she do that? And what does this all mean?

At the end of the play, which runs about 60 minutes, it is hard to know the answer to any of those questions.

Sherlock’s conceit is to explore “The Miss Havisham Effect” (recognised as a legitimate medical condition whereby someone who aches for the love of another becomes physically addicted to the pleasure that the pain of the loss or deprivation of that love brings and cannot move on with their life) by using Charles Dickens’ famous fictional character from Great Expectations, the ultimate jilted bride, as the vessel for exploration. She uses some of Dickens’ writing too, as well as other classical references.

It is as if Miss Havisham was a real force, an educated human spirit, not a fiction, and in a long monologue, which occasionally sees her spirit turn into other characters, the human Havisham seeks to explore and explain the pain, passions and predicament of the fictional character.

It is quite impossible to follow, except in the sense that you absolutely want to go along for the ride, to experience what this Havisham spirit has to offer, a unique perspective, and so you try to follow it. You really try. But the writing bends like a deflected beam of sunlight, darting in many directions, and just as you think you have grasped the nettle, it drifts into a different direction, makes a different point, adds magic or a new character and you are lost again.

Lost, to be clear, about the meaning and purpose of Sherlock’s writing. Because whatever that is, it turns out not to be the point in her own production of her own work.

No. The point here is the luminous, quite remarkable theatrical force which is Linda Marlowe, the actress who single-handedly delivers Sherlock’s script with all its runaway thoughts and ideas.

It is often said of Judi Dench that audiences would listen and watch her read a telephone book. No doubt. And Dame Judi would deliver the goods in her classy, classical way. But if they watched and listened to Linda Marlowe read a telephone book they would probably also get conjuring tricks, quick change acts, many different voices and styles and a wild, edgy and completely compelling audacity as added extras.

Marlowe is an actress of tremendous range and potency. She controls her voice utterly, knowing exactly how to float a phrase, or hammer it, or thrust it, or throw it away. Her eyes are endlessly seductive and assured; she uses them as part of her attention commanding armour. Just as she uses her entire body – she can assume a bigger physical form than she has as easily as she can shrink on the spot. She can age down or up as she chooses, one moment a gorgeous ingenue, the next a woe-begotten old hag who might just be a witch.

Her rapport with the audience, the intense connection she establishes as she walks in silence from the side doors through the small auditorium and stands, waiting, watching for everyone to pay her proper, considered attention, the direct contact she makes with as many members of the attentive throng as she can – she is wise to all the ways to tell a story and make it seem part of the life of the listener.

Marlowe is that very rare creature – a true virtuoso. Sherlock’s material is made for her and she gorges on it, finding every nuance, every temptation of interest, every cubbyhole of unexplored tension, every way possible to shine. Listening to her vocal dynamism, feeling her powerful, magnetic presence engulf and assuage you, experiencing her very physical approach to characterisation – well, it is as thrilling as it gets in modern theatre.

It is difficult to tell what directorial role Sherlock has played, Marlowe being the unique, instinctive and intuitive performer that she is, but the physical aspects of the production (especially Andie Scott’s design but also Theo Chadha’s lighting) are not in Marlowe’s league. If the resources of the National Theatre backed this production, it could be very different in terms of presentation, look and feel; it might come close to the incandescence of the star.

Scott Penrose’s magic tricks are clever indeed, and Marlowe makes them all work brilliantly. Andy Booth’s original music is appropriate and non-intrusive, ideal,in a piece like this.

You may not follow what the intention of the author is when you see Miss Havisham’s Expectations, but you will certainly leave the theatre feeling alive and knowing that you have been present while a truly great actress worked at full throttle and with boundless energy and style.

Do yourself a favour and see Linda Marlowe in this odd, strangely magical play.

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