Theatre reviews: Gone Full Havisham | Dickens for Dinner, Edinburgh

Exceeding Expectations

Author of the piece Irene Kelleher plays jilted Emily, a magnificent creation live-streaming her miser. Picture: Contributed
Author of the piece Irene Kelleher plays jilted Emily, a magnificent creation live-streaming her miser. Picture: Contributed

Gone Full Havisham, Gilded Balloon - Patter Hoose, Edinburgh, Until 25 August * * * *

Dickens for Dinner, C viva, Edinburgh, Until 26 August * * *

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Come nearer, boy. Let me look at you. The 1946 film of Great Expectations, directed by David Lean, is the perfect reference point for Gone Full Havisham. The scene of the quaking young Pip, head bowed, approaching the magnificently cobwebbed Martita Hunt, replays on a flickering black and white back-drop.

Dickens’ Miss Havisham retreated from the world, nursing her bitter heart. Irene Kelleher, who wrote and performs as Emily, has opted for the most spectacular hissy-fit in history.

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Sat amid her torn bridal magazines, Emily spits out her fury at all those who persuaded her to buy into the wedding dream, in a five-month multi-media meltdown that draws us in relentlessly, if uncertain whether to laugh or cry. It’s impossible not to revel in what must be an exhausting performance from start to finish: how can Kelleher, of Game of Thrones fame, do this every day?

The old bitch in the bridal shop is the target of a blisteringly delicious diatribe, along with anyone else who has talked wifey for lifey, as she gloriously reprises all the preparations for her dream wedding. The bridal smile she practised so hard to perfect turns increasingly gruesome, dress and body stained with blood, mud and most memorably, banana.

It’s a magnificent, frenzied portrait of a total break-down, complete with adored Dad, and his bizarre bed-time tales of a septic tank. Kelleher was here in 2017 with her first one-woman play Mary And Me, just after her own father died from cancer. She’s a fantastic, phantasmagorical figure.

Walt Disney gets it in the neck a lot this Fringe, from disappointed princesses, whose princes routinely turn out to be just another example of toxic masculinity. There’s a glancing reference here, as well as Eurovision, apparently a cultural marker of the very best of Irish drama, reflecting the peculiarly high shamrock success rate.

When it comes to a Dickensian cultural icon, it’s once again a film that makes the starting point: this time the musical Oliver!

If you’ve ever warbled Where-ere-ere-ere is Love at an impressionable age, this is the show for you. If you’ve not seen the film, or watched and re-watched it with your kids, well, you’re likely to miss out, though somehow through the silliness Mary Poppins, Joseph and the Technicolour Dreamcoat and Sweeney Todd get a look in.

Dickens for Dinner comes from the Shakespeare for Breakfast team, and they burst on to the stage for a breathless pace that never gives up, passing Oliver the puppet doll – “he’s a real boy!” faster than a parcel.

There’s a particularly good pastiche of the unforgettable Ron Moody as Fagin, Bill Sykes is good and grimy, and Nancy, fancy. Technical point: on a 12.30 show, isn’t this Dickens for lunch?

Eddie Izzard is also doing Dickens, with a work-in-progress reading and performance of Great Expectations at Assembly, said to be a return to acting, his first love.

Love to see him do Miss Havisham, but press are barred. If everyone is going to moan about the lack of critics, they could at least throw us the occasional bone. But next year, please.