Upturned expectations

Pip becomes Pipli in Tanika Gupta’s colonial Indian take on Dickens; Caroline Quentin and daughter are a dream team in April De Angelis’s Emma Hamilton romp; and Polly Stenham’s 2007 debut hits home in a devastating revival







Great Expectations spry charm by Esh Alladi. Cecilia Appiah, as his glacial love interest, Estella, has a diction that would not disgrace our late queen. And as Malik, the convict who improbably becomes Pipli’s secret benefactor, Andrew French shows solidly how violence can have kindness as its flipside. Kindness in Dickens comes as balm, a relief from bullying. And it is this that makes Asif Khan’s benign Jagu affecting as Pipli’s brother-in-law. But at the heart of the story is Miss Havisham: the half-dressed, abandoned, sepia bride (one shoe off when Pip first meets her in the novel). The notion of converting her into a colonial memsahib, hiding from an Indian sun, is ingenious, and it’s fun to watch Pipli address, in broken English, the old Englishwoman with a broken heart. But Catherine Russell has – a nice fault – too much presence. She is not as ethereal, frightening or mysterious as she needs to be. Miss Havisham is a living ghost, not a histrionic relic. Towards the end of this three-hour haul, Pipli and his upper-crust white chum Herbert Pocket (dependably played by the dynamic Giles Cooper) startle us by growing, between scenes, identical moustaches – to indicate, presumably, the passing of months. By this stage, you feel the evening has gone on so long that some of the audience might have had time to grow moustaches of their own. But at least the show does not keep Havisham time – the clock has not stopped at 20 minutes to nine. April De Angelis’s new play based on the life of Emma Hamilton (1765-1815), is a romp and a tragedy and could have been written for Caroline and Rose Quentin. Their real-life motherdaughter connection underpins their natural rapport on stage. As Lady Hamilton, Rose Quentin looks the part. George Romney, whose muse Emma was, and who painted her besottedly, would have approved the likeness (even if bright blue eyes replace historical brown). She has a tangle of black curls, a creamy complexion and a languorous yet proactive self-satisfaction (it’s this that eventually propels Emma into Horatio Nelson’s bed). Her white dress looks bridal, as if ever-ready for spontaneous nuptials (Miss Havisham eat your heart out), and Rose Quentin shows that being a femme fatale is an act of will. The Jermyn Street theatre has been translated by Fotini Dimou, with gilded minimalism, into a salon on a shoestring, with chaise longue, antique desk and dainty inkwell, and as the play opens, Emma is penning a letter of amorous calculation to Nelson, who has just arrived victoriously in Naples. She ardently uses his name three times, to her mother’s disgust (a triple Nelson is better