Great Expectations at the Royal Exchange. Image: Ellie Kurttz

Great Expectations At The Royal Exchange

British colonialism with its multi-faceted elements of exploitation and class - on display a St Ann's Square
September 14, 2023

At a time when our country looks to be coming apart at the seams, along comes a brilliant adaptation of the Charles Dickens novel Great Expectations at Manchester's Royal Exchange.

If anything, the adapted version, which is set in a small village in India where British colonialism with its multi-faceted elements of exploitation and class has a more deadly impact than even the poverty and suffering witnessed by Dickens in Victorian London could imagine.

The play, like the book, sets out to challenge our quest for wealth, improving our standing in society and greater happiness.

For the villagers, the themes of class struggle and ambition remain at the heart in the story set against the backdrop of a country, which once had a proud manufacturing base, being slowly brought to its knees by it's imperial masters.

While the story follows a familiar line, the performances are outstanding and provide the perfect stage for the right of reply to the British approach of divide and rule. 

The role of Pipli (Esh Alladi), who hopes to take his life in a different direction, is challenged from the off by a pompous Estella (Cecilia Appiah), who learnt from Miss Havisham (Catherine Russell), who herself has endured the caddish behaviour of Compeyson (Reginal Edwards), who on her wedding day abandoned her.

Great Expectations at Manchester Royal Exchange
Great Expectations (Image: Ellie Kurttz)

Despite Pipli's secret benefactor offering to finance his future as a gentlemen, it is pointed out very clearly to him that although he can be that, he will never become equal in the eyes of the British upper classes because of the colour of his skin.

Herbert Pocket (Giles Cooper) becomes Pipli's friend and confidante, while Jaggers (StephenFewell) plays his solicitor and provider of his newly found income courtesy of Malik (Andrew French). 

There are commendable performances from the remainder of the cast including Krishna Ganguly (Shanaya Rafaat), Jagu Ganguly (Asif Khan), Wahan (Shaban Dar), Bilquis (Humera Syed), Panda (Nav Sidhu).

The adaptation by Tanika Gupta, is set in 1899 at the very time of the Indian famine following the failure of the summer monsoons, with estimates that up to 4.5 million people became victim to the subsequent mass crop failures.  

Esh comments: "Just look around at our political leaders today. Look at the rhetoric that, for example Priti Patel and Suella Braverman have brought out regarding immigrants and migrant populations. You think what got lost on the way here.

"And it is really resonant to Pipli's journey in this, because he's desperate to make something of his life because he is so uncomfortable and dissatisfied where he is.

"He doesn't realise what he has, the importance of his cultural identity and what's been taken from him through colonialism."

Great Expectations runs until October 7 

For Tickets and Info CLICK HERE