Sunday 29th December 2019 – Expectations of Great Expectations only partly fulfilled.

To the De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill, to watch Eddie Izzard present a “work in progress” one man show based on Charles Dickens’ novel Great Expectations. Eddie is a great friend of the DLWP and from time to time puts on shows there without taking a fee. He grew up in the town and said in his introduction that his father was at the Pavilion on the day it opened in 1935, when there was a food fight (not recorded in the official histories). When MAE last saw Eddie perform on 15th September he announced that he was going to spend more time promoting his career as a Labour politician. Whether he saw the way things were going for Labour in the build up to the December 12th election, and thought he should repeat a show which he had tried out at the Edinburgh Festival in the summer I don’t know. Certainly DLWP members were emailed about it on 10th December.

The theatre was about three-quarters full, which isn’t bad on a Sunday night between Christmas and New Year, and they were mostly great supporters of Eddie. In his introduction he said that he and the novelist were born 150 years apart. As he is dyslexic he never read Dickens. “Dyslexics wait for the film” he said. He (Izzard not Dickens) has however recorded it as an audio book and felt he would like to perform key scenes on stage, especially as Dickens himself used to tour giving readings in Britain and America.

In much of the first half he read extracts from the book (well abridged by his brother Mark) while standing and moving round the stage. In my view this didn’t really work. Even without dyslexia this would be a difficult task. He might have done better to sit in a Victorian wingback armchair to read. When however, towards the interval and into the second half, he dispensed with the book and acted out passages learned by heart there was a transformation and the various scenes came to life. The passages where Pip and Herbert attempt to help Magwich escape by ship, where Pip returns to the Kent marshes with the intention of marrying Biddy, and when Pip meets Estella in the ruins of Satis House are all affectingly told.

This is certainly a work in progress and a challenging one. (Izzard likes a challenge – just consider his marathon running feats.) Whether it will repay the prodigious efforts Izzard has already, and will need to, put into it remains to be seen. If he reprises it near you give it a try. (***[*])

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