Review: Nae Expectations (Tron Theatre)
Gary McNair weaves a wonderful Dickensian World
Every year it starts earlier, doesn’t it? Dickens season I mean. Late October comes around and it’s then it’s all “humbug” this, “Merry Christmas everyone” that, and it’s shoved in your face right up until New Year's. But even before we get our yearly dose of A Christmas Carol, we have this: an adaptation of Great Expectations by Gary McNair that translates the story into Scots, among other things. It is the final production to come out of the Tron by long-time artistic director Andy Arnold, and as it starts to get chilly outside both he and McNair create a performance that finds warmth in the coldest corners of life.
Sometimes Scots adaptations run the risk of either dumbing down a text or simply turning it into a string of jokes that are only funny because it’s in Scots instead of English. With so many Scots plays coming out recently it isn’t enough simply to be patriotic or locally relevant anymore; something new must be brought to the text in the process. Thankfully, that is exactly what McNair does with Nae Expectations. Sure, it is funny to see a classic character call someone a “daft bastard”, but what makes the use of Scots work so well is that it does not just translate the sentences, it translates the feelings of the story. It becomes easier to approach not just because it is in a modern language but because we can more easily recognise the character dynamics even though they are, in many ways, so different to the way we interact with each other now. There are moments when the writing oversteps the mark, for example when Joe introduces Pip to blacksmithing and says “It’s awright this, ain’t it?”. That moment of contentment could have been more tender had it been given the chance to linger, but instead McNair feels it has to be explained. Even so, it is a testament to McNair’s ability to make these moments pop in the first place that makes this a first-rate adaptation.
(Photo Credit: Mihaela Bodlovic)
As strong a script as it is, it would be wasted without an equally strong cast, and this production has one. Simon Donald’s performance as Joe is amiable and heartwarming and has an understated importance in the story. You feel that so long as he is within reach of Pip nothing can be too bad. In the role of Pip himself is Gavin Jon Wright, who refrains from the exaggerated sulkiness and excitability that most adults portray when playing children. Instead, he has a subtle but convincing hold on how a child acts and thinks, especially when you can see the boyish fear in his eyes when faced with the imposing figure of the Convict. Wright, and indeed the script, manage to keep him likeable even in his most ugly and desperate moments. It is easy to see that it is not his own nature that leads him to chase the finer things, but the upbringing that made him believe he should.
The woman responsible for that is none other than Miss Havisham, but Karen Dunbar’s performance as her takes an unusual direction. She is of course quite an oddball character, but she is turned into quite a cooky, comic character with bulging eyes and exaggerated gestures. To my taste, her performance lacks the grandeur and tragedy that the character deserves, but it is a deliberate vision for the character and one that audiences are as likely to enjoy as they are to resent. But she never outstays her welcome, unlike Grant Smeaton’s Mr Pumblechook, whose defining characteristic of talking too much gets old mid-way through his first line.
(Photo Credit: Mihaela Bodlovic)
Even so, he’s one of many colourful characters that makes this world feel so full and vibrant. I could happily spend a long time in this world, with these characters. Nae Expectations is the kind of show that, even as you see it wrap up just at the right time, you are sad to see it come to an end. I’m sure many feel the same way about Arnold as the sun sets on his time as artistic director at the Tron, but with Nae Expectations he leaves the Tron on a high. Four stars.