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Corn Exchange - Great Expectations

6th to 7th September 2019

Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Exceeding expectations

Youth group delivers strong performance after just two weeks rehearsal

West Berks Youth Theatre: Great Expectations, at the Corn Exchange, on Friday, September 6 and Saturday, September 7

It's quite a challenge to bring Charles Dicken's epic novel Great Expectations to the stage, but West Berkshire Youth Theatre achieved this splendidly, with energy and confidence in Nick Ormerod and Declan Donnellan's intelligent adaption.

This summer project involved 31 youngsters aged 14 to 21, who only had two weeks of rehearsal before performing on the stage. Quite an achievement in what is an impressive production.

There was strong ensemble work from a well-drilled cast, who embrace this classic story of love, loyalty, ambition and morality with conviction.

The plot begins when young Pip (Maddie Macgregor) encounters an escaped convict, the mysterious Magwitch (Edward Morris) and helps him to break free from his prison chains and flee. Little does Pip know that this meeting will change his life forever.

The orphaned Pip lives with his overbearing and cruel sister Mrs Gargery (Emma Hill) and her blacksmith husband Joe (Tom May). His uncle, Mr Pumblechook (Annabel Cotton), introduces him to the vindictive spinster Miss Havisham (Hannah Gibbon) who was jilted on her wedding day.

He is to amuse her young niece, the selfish Estella (Emma Leeson) who has been trained to break men's hearts. As she ages, Grace Morgan and Louise Gubbings take over the role, performing with self-assurance.

Pip becomes an apprentice to Joe and his fortune changes when lawyer Mr Jaggers (Rachel Cooper) brings news of a mysterious benefactor who has left Pip a small fortune.

Eryn Sharp takes on the mantle of Pip as he travels to London where he is reunited with his childhood friend Herbert Pocket (Sophie McNey). Pip embraces this lavish lifestyle with relish spending money with reckless abandon. Emma Davis plays the more mature Pip with aplomb.

The convoluted plot eventually results in an unexpected ending as Pip's true benefactor is revealed.

Designer Adrian Gee created a delightful atmospheric set and the period costumes were sumptuous. Joseph Stairs’ inventive lighting, together with a superb emotive sound design from Edward Terry and Nathan Smith, captured the mood perfectly.

Bryan Holding's taut direction brought out the very best from his young talented cast, who should be congratulated on this innovative production which exceeds all 'expectations'.