Havisham @ Mill Studio, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford

Charles Dickens meets Angela Carter meets Me Too. In this one woman acted out monologue we deep dive into Miss Havisham’s life before Bleak Expectations.

It’s harrowing. Endlessly isolated and neglected, although from a wealthy background, young Miss Havisham rambles around the countryside. An object of pity and mockery to the local people (and her father’s employers). Poorly educated, she seems to be bombarded by words without understanding. Although like a Bronte heroine, she loves both nature and books.

Some parts of this version of the story also don’t hold true. Rather than having a governess or a tutor, she (daughter of the richest landowner in the area) goes to the local school for a time. This doesn’t really work for the time or her status — whereas being in the library and not really educated at all, lacking a mother, does.

A horrible encounter and gang rape as a young woman results in a dead baby, Estella. Her star. This also links in with her love of classical education — such as the story of Medea, and gives her some backstory for why she feels so enraged and bitter towards humanity, especially men.

Although this is meant to be set in the early 19th century, it doesn’t quite hold its sense of period. It feels more like Wilkie Collins, than late 18th century-early 19th century. Like an Edwardian bluestocking, her urban adventuress aunt enrolls her in a course of university studies about classical civilisations — and then disappears on further travels. Seriously lacking chaperones or protectors at any point, it is in London that she encounters the plot — and the man — who will be her undoing.

In the background is her equally neglected brother, from a poorer mother, who is not the heir. Mr Havisham is very clear that Miss Havisham will be his heir, and get Satis house, the brewery, the fortune and the influence. It’s suggested that her brother is even fostered out to another family completely. She hides from him and doesn’t understand him, and in all of this are the seeds of his revenge against his father — and her.

She and her fiancé embark on a passionate, intense and controlling affair. Contracts are signed, preparations made — and then on the wedding day, the letter arrives which causes Miss Havisham to become the infamous Dickens creation. Props are used wonderfully and Gothically. We start with Miss Havisham tearing off her wedding garb. With a focus on angels and Medea, a mirror, hiding, becoming small behind packing cases and the bridal veil all become significant.

In a very Me Too way, Miss Havisham’s ability to speak, to say ‘no’, becomes all. She is let down by those who should have cared for her and protected her, and her Dickens incarnation is her revenge against the world. An intriguing take, but I think needs to be fully embedded in its era to feel authentic. However Heather Alexander performs the piece compellingly, engagingly and actively — moving from young girl disconnected to society to a social and rich woman about to meet the man of her dreams. (Or not).

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Cultures: Arts Reviews and Views by Susan Tailby

By Susan Tailby. Appreciator of arts and culture; things I've seen and enjoyed and you might too! Reviews all my own opinion....Theatre, Movies, Dance & Art!