A creaky old curiosity shop: PATRICK MARMION reviews Bleak Expectations 

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Are there enough fans to render this more than an old curiosity shop? PATRICK MARMION reviews Bleak Expectations

Bleak Expectations (Criterion Theatre, London)

Verdict: Not the Dickens

Rating:

We live in a world where stage and screen travesties of great books lurk around every corner.

To be fair to Bleak Expectations — a stage spin-off of Mark Evans’s Radio 4 comedy series — it is a travesty not just of Dickens’s complete works, but the entire 19th century.

Photofit Dickensian hero Pip, the eldest son of the ‘Bin’ family, has fallen on hard times and must undertake a character-building odyssey through Victorian society, from its schools, law courts, prisons and churches, before he strikes it rich by inventing a trash can (geddit?).

Bleak Expectations at the Criterion. Picture shows Sally Phillips

Sally Phillips in a production of Bleak Expectations at the Criterion Theatre in London, England

(L to R) Emily Waters, Marc Pickering, Serena Manteghi, J.J. Henry, Sally Phillips, Dom Hodson, Rachel Summers, Shane David-Joseph, Ashh Blackwood and John Hopkins attend the press night performance for "Bleak Expectations" at The Criterion Theatre on May 18 in London

(L to R) Emily Waters, Marc Pickering, Serena Manteghi, J.J. Henry, Sally Phillips, Dom Hodson, Rachel Summers, Shane David-Joseph, Ashh Blackwood and John Hopkins attend the press night performance for ‘Bleak Expectations’ at The Criterion Theatre on May 18 in London

Like The Play What I Wrote, of blessed memory, this has a new celebrity guest every week. It’s currently Sally Phillips (Shazza from Bridget Jones), right, who has been made to look and sound like a ventriloquist’s dummy thanks to a lip-stiffening ‘tash.

Sue Perkins inherits the prosthesis next month, and Stephen Fry in August . . . if they make it that far. Aside from a blizzard of occasionally very good gags, this is little more than a very, very childish student revue.

In the absence of a worthwhile satirical target, much depends on director Caroline Leslie’s commendably choreographed capering.

Dom Hodson is a posh but dim Pip, Rachel Summers a sexually repressed love interest called Ripely Fecund, while Ashh Blackwood and Serena Manteghi amuse as two sisters.

In the spirit of lowbrow spoofery, the cod-Victorian sets are wonky and wobbly, with the panels of one door falling out and a stage hand required to yank it back in.

Fans of the radio show will cheer it on, but are there enough to render this creaky stage version more than an old curiosity shop?



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