Review by Brittany Crowell
When I heard that Eddie Izzard was performing in a one-woman show and taking on every character in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, I said, “sign me up!” I have distinct memories of sitting in my friend Katie’s house during high school, watching and rewatching videos of the British comedian, whose stand up comedy often takes on a quite narrative approach and incorporates the portrayal of many characters.
While Great Expectations is a departure from the comedic storytelling of Izzard’s stand-up pieces, she nonetheless exhibits her presence and prowess on the stage. Directed by Selina Cadell, her embodiment of each character is nuanced and specific, and though there be a great number of them, the audience is able to follow who is speaking as Izzard tracks the trajectory of each person’s movement and arc through each scene. Izzard’s performance is welcoming and heartfelt; the audience laughs with her, recognizing the Izzard-isms surrounding some of the comedic reiterations and nods to audience, while feeling with her when she drops into the more emotional moments of the story.
For those like myself, who didn’t have to read the novel in grade school and haven’t picked it up otherwise, the story focuses on one Pip, an orphan being raised with “the hand” by his strict sister and her loving blacksmith husband. One Christmas, Pip runs into a convict in a graveyard who threatens the young boy into giving him a file and a pie, and his life begins to change from there. Dickens’ novel explores “great expectations” both in the sense of what we aim for ourselves, but also in what others aim for for us. While Pip both embraces and disappoints these expectations within the story, Mark Izzard’s translation of the twenty plus hour novel into a two hour play never ceases to amaze and entertain, honoring the sprawling and adventurous nature of the novel, while keeping the pace and energy moving ever-forward; giving the sense that time is always in motion as we race to catch up.
The scenery and lighting for the piece (by Tom Piper and Tyler Elich respectively) continue to highlight the struggle between expectation and reality in the novel; mixing stained and moth-eaten sheer curtains with the wealth and vibrancy of red curtains lit in warm tones. Elich’s lighting transitions us subtly (and less so) from scene to scene with slight changes hinting at environment and transforming the notes of Piper’s scenic design to meet each space. Piper and Libby Da Costa’s costume elicits the time period as well as hints of each character and Izzard majestically parades in it around the stage. Music composed by Eliza Thompson also helps to set the scene, transporting us back to an early 19th century London and Kent with traditional tones.
For those like myself, who haven’t read the source material, Great Expectations at Greenwich House is a wonderful introduction; however, the piece moves speedily through the adventure, so be sure to stay attentive so you don’t get lost. Eddie Izzard is an entrancing storyteller and brings her brother’s 2 hour adaptation to the stage with humor and ease. A dyslexic who shared a birthday with Dickens (150 years later, exactly) and whose foray into investigating great literature was through the performed novel, her performance is heartfelt and moving. It is sure to have made her mother, who passed in the late 60s and shared with her family her love of amateur theater, incredibly proud.
GREAT EXPECTATIONS – Adapted by Mark Izzard and directed by Selina Cadell
FEATURING – Eddie Izzard
Scenic design by Tom Piper; lighting design by Tyler Elich; costume styles by Tom Piper & Libby Da Costa; music composition by Eliza Thompson. Presented by WestBeth Entertainment and Mick Perrin Worldwide at the Greenwich House Theater (27 Barrow Street, New York); Through Jan 22, 2023: https://www.eddieizzardgreatexpectations.com