For those who are not experts in Dickensian literature, Grated Expectations might well prove hard to understand. Perhaps even if one had done a thesis on Charles Dickens then it would still be a struggle to follow events with total ease. Although an interesting concept and often amusing, the play is very overstretched resulting in its message being weak.
It follows the treatment of Timothy Sparks, a lonely if aptly named former electrician who is utterly obsessed with comparing his problems to those of Dickensian characters. Aided by two therapists, the audience is led on a dance through Sparks' psychosis as the action flicks between a medical institution and reenactments of scenes penned by the Victorian author. Death and unhappy marriages are running themes expressed through anecdotal dips into virtually ALL the works of Dickens. The death of Nancy from Oliver Twist, the beatings of David Copperfield or Nicholas Nickleby and the full plot summary of Little Dorrit all find their way into a very confusing script. Although the lines were witty and pithy at times, I found it hard to follow exactly why the anecdotes were relevant to Sparks' problems. The central message was that the societal issues faced by Victorians are no different to those faced by us but I found it hard to feel sorry for Mr Sparks because of a lack of clarity about why snippets of the Dickens tales were at all relevant. Even harder to follow was the inclusion of reenactments of Dickensian themed reality TV shows. Although amusing to watch, a Dickensian version of Dickinson's Real Deal should have been left out because it added nothing to what could be a really interesting little play.
The cast employed a 'Curiosity Shop' of props, and countless costume changes in an attempt to distinguish between imagination and reality but this presented other problems. Costume changes were required at impossible speeds so that the intended snap back to reality would leave a therapist still dressed in Victorian garb accompanied by a haze of confusion as to whether or not this was intended. Indeed, at one point the whole cast were speaking separate lines at the same time, resulting in none of them being heard at all. Even so, Brian Portsmouth's performance as Sparks deserves much praise with his smorgasbord of accents that spanned centuries and continents and it was more than pleasant to watch him change his demeanour so often.
Whilst Portsmouth possesses real skill, his performance could not singlehandedly make up for how jolted the story is. The script tries to do too much and an aggressive edit would tighten the story and make the Life and Adventures of Timothy Sparks all the more poignant.