Great Expectations, Norwich

CHRISTOPHER SMITH Adapted by John Clifford and directed by Robert Little, Charles Dickens' novel is cut down to two hours in this stage version at the Sewell Barn.

CHRISTOPHER SMITH

Adapted by John Clifford and directed by Robert Little, Charles Dickens' novel is cut down to two hours in this stage version at the Sewell Barn.

But it emerges from such drastic dramatic treatment without being too seriously reduced.

The well-known story is told in short vivid scenes, and the characters still have their powerful individuality, while fondness for quirky individuals goes a long with deep compassion for human suffering.

Emotions are always near the surface, and comedy merges into melodrama as great expectations give way to broken dreams. The past demands a high price before letting the future blossom.

After a moment the audience comes to accept the staging conventions. Our imagination must play its part as we flit from shivering marshes by the muddy Thames to the glitter of the Richmond Ball, from the noisy forge to that eerie great house. A little music helps set the mood.

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Jim Carpmael gives life to the limited but boundlessly kind Joe, and Carol Thornton rightly puts ice into the role of Miss Havisham. Understandably pining for Ellen Kemp's Estella, Keith Hatton leads us through all Pip's bewildering experiences. David Dixon grows more and more persuasive as Jaggers, the lawyer who wishes to wash his hands of responsibility but finally has to admit that it is not possible to opt out.

t Great Expectations runs until January 24. Box office: 01603 666332.