Linda Marlowe’s one-woman shows have become something of a fixture at the Fringe. She continues her romp through the great female characters in literature in Miss Havisham’s Expectations, in which she tackles Dickens’ jilted bride.
As recent television adaptations of Great Expectations show, there is a tendency to either play Miss Havisham as a witch-like crone wallowing in cobwebs, or as a misandrist ice maiden. It’s a testament to director Di Sherlock’s sensitive script that both extremes are avoided. Instead, the Miss Havisham that emerges is undoubtedly a deeply flawed character, but also witty– her description of the death of Nancy in Oliver Twist as ‘cheap melodrama with a dog and all’ is brilliant- and genuinely, if pervertedly, tender towards her daughter Estella. When Marlowe picked up the stuffed little girl’s dress that represented Estella and held it delicately in her arms, a strangely touching moment occured. Although you wouldn’t want Miss Havisham to be your mother, she’d be a rather exciting to have as an eccentric aunt that popped round every now and and again.
Though naturally focusing on the story of Miss Havisham as written by Dickens, the play does a good job of setting her within a broader context of Dickens’ attitude to women. Sir Dick, as Miss Havisham calls him, had a private life far removed from the Victorian moral ideal that he preached, a point that is well-illustrated in a series of short anecdotes, told with a deliciously raised eyebrow and asides.
If the ending feels like a bit of a damp squib, you can probably blame Sir Dick for that. Although the play does away with the sickly Victorian morality that marrs Miss Havisham’s final days in Great Expectations, it substitutes it with a somewhat unnecessary supernatural scene.
On occasion, during Miss Havisham’s dabblings in the occult, the acting tipped into exaggeration. But if you can’t be ever-so-slightly hammy when playing Miss Havisham then when can you? You have to go into this play in the right state of mind: imagine gas lights flickering (this is no slur on the lighting, which by and by is excellent) and abandon yourself to seventy minutes in Miss Havisham’s captivating company. In this year of Dickens’ bicentenary, Miss Havisham’s Expectations may just be the closest you can come to experiencing the magic of Dickens’ famous readings of his work for yourself.