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Sunday, 5 June 2022

REVIEW: Bleak Expectations at The Watermill Theatre

The Watermill in Newbury has developed its own style of production that now seems to dominate each season’s programming. On the one hand, they present actor-musicians musicals like Our Man in Havana, Wicker Husband & Assassins, on the other hand, they stage new wordy comedy shows like Wipers Times, Trial by Laughter, and Spike. They set generally high production standards with clever settings and good ensemble casts that make the most of the intimate auditorium. There is however a slight sense that the creativity is being stifled by the familiarity with the style of shows they programme. 

The latest offering is Bleak Expectations, a modern reimagining that borrows from Charles Dicken’s narrative style novels of Bleak House and Great Expectations and builds a tale about Pip and an escaped convict who becomes his benefactor and saviour. Written by Mark Evans, there is a whiff of Cambridge Footlights revue about the fast-paced episodic format combined with the smugness and “too clever by half” writing of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and like both of these when it works it is excellent but the two fifty-five-minute acts at times drag as the storytelling is stretched from its original format of 28-minute radio episodes. The production seems to say laugh if you are clever enough to get the reference and there are plenty of laughs, but the parody of Victorian melodrama and sensibilities does at times wear thin.
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