Miss Havisham’s Expectations

Two hundred years after his birth, the reputation of Charles Dickens as a novelist remains unchallenged.  He was seen as a literary colossus in Victorian Britain and remains viewed as one of the greatest of writers in the English language.

Dickens the writer remains, properly, in high regard.  Dickens the man is no longer the hero he once was.  His abandonment of his wife, his infatuation with a much younger mistress and his mistreatment of other women in his life have now all been well documented.  Linda Marlowe’s new Fringe show, ‘Miss Havisham’s Expectations’, written and directed by Di Sherlock, suggests that it was not only the women in his life that Dickens mistreated.  He was a man with little sympathy for his female characters and the women in his books suffered in a way that reflected his own fears, concerns and neuroses.

This outstanding solo performance (The Gilded Balloon, Teviot Row House, 3.00 pm, until 27 August) invites a public reappraisal of Dickens, of Great Expectations and of the iconic Miss Havisham.

Linda Marlowe has a long and distinguished record on stage, screen and television and she brings a capacity for humour, bitterness and tragedy to her portrayal of Miss Havisham, a Miss Havisham reviewing her life, her relationship with Estella and with Pip and her thoughts on ‘Sir Dick’, as she mockingly refers to her literary creator.  “I am the one,” she says, as she accuses him of flirting with the grotesque, “you never want to meet, see or dream of.”

She meditates on how she raised Estella, how she taught her to be coldly indifferent, to show no mercy.  She betrays the contempt Dickens had for the archetypal mother figure but she rues the ironic outcome, the fact that Estella ultimately applies the same indifference to her.

Without a trace of self-pity but with searing, accurate perception, she rues also growing old: “Who would choose to be old, the melting of firm form to flaccid flesh?”

What she desires is her bride’s body back and in this version Estella is the means to attain that metaphysical rejuvenation.  Her actions are driven by a desire to possess Estella, to be, in her, forever beautiful, young and cruel.

Linda Marlowe creates rigorous, rivetting theatre which forces her audience to question all preconceptions of Great Expectations and of Dickens; not to abandon these long-held understandings but to delve far deeper into them, to question the very nature of Miss Havisham and to grasp larger plots.

Linda Marlowe’s Miss Havisham rejects Tennyson in one superb, throw-away line as “trite, sentimental tosh”.  She deals similarly with several of Dickens’ own characters, includingNancyin David Copperfield.  Perhaps that is the pressing message which Di Sherlock and Linda Marlowe offer.  Theirs is a starker view of Dickens and his works, a view bereft of the sugar-coating which Victorian Britain demanded.  Dickens’ characters are complex.  They reflect not only his ideals but his nightmares, his demons and his obsessions. If we are to comprehend that reality we require to delve far deeper than has hitherto been permitted by the historic costume-drama genre or the children’s classics versions of the great Victorian master.

It is a masterful text and mesmerising acting which can successfully convince audiences of the need for such a reappraisal.

The above article was first published in Lothian Life on 23 August 2012: http://www.lothianlife.co.uk/2012/08/miss-havershams-expectations/

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