Nae Expectations
Tron Theatre, Glasgow

The Scots negative in the title of Gary McNair’s audacious new version of Charles Dickens’ rites of passage epic Great Expectations says it all in Andy Arnold’s slow-burning production. Here, after all, is a story about how a smart working-class boy with ideas above his station is groomed for the success that sees him corrupted before he eventually finds his way home.

By rewriting Dickens’ boy hero Pip as a gallus Glasgow patter merchant, McNair, Arnold and co give him even more of a common touch. As embodied by a brilliantly rambunctious Gavin Jon Wright, Pip tells his own story in what begins as a motor-mouthed stand-up routine full of scurrilous asides and one-line gags. These are brought to life by everyone else on stage who haunt Pip’s imposter syndrome nightmares. Only when he learns to talk proper and acquire the airs and graces of a gentleman does he lose sight of himself.

Karen Dunbar’s increasingly creepy Miss Havisham leads a roll call of high society grotesques. Whether Jamie Marie Leary’s posh girl Estella turning her nose up at Pip, Grant Smeaton’s effete Jaggers overseeing his finances, or Simon Donaldson’s upper class twerp Kelvin Pocket high on the confidence of wealth, it is clear the class war is alive and kicking. Only Gerry Mulgrew’s Magwitch - on the run and loaded with new money - is anything resembling honest with Pip.

This is a mighty way for Arnold to close his tenure as artistic director of the Tron after 16 years. His expansive production is brim-full with gothic light and shade, the eerie brutality of the piece brought into focus on Jenny Booth’s wide open set awash with shadows. As Pip rejects the London life in McNair’s version to make his prodigal’s return, one wonders how long before his expectations get the better of him once more in this vibrant new reading of a story that is itself never short of ambition.

Neil Cooper