British playwright Tanika Gupta’s adaptation brings a colonial eye to Charles Dickens’s orphan story.
By resetting Dickens’s tale in 1861 India, British playwright Tanika Gupta hangs a racial and colonial frame around orphan Pip’s aspirations to gentlemanly status. Here, Pip, his cruel sister and kindly brother-in-law Joe are Indian villagers; Miss Havisham, barrister Jaggers and Herbert Pocket are white English representatives of the Raj; and Pip’s mysterious benefactor sends him not to London but to Calcutta to get his education as “a real English gentleman.”
The change of scenery illuminates facets of the story in new ways; when Miss Havisham’s ward, Estella—here an orphan of mixed African and Indian ancestry—tells Pip they’ll both forever be outsiders in English society, it comes with a distinct certitude, and we see that Pip’s desire to rise above his class means leaving behind not just his family, but his culture.
Yet for as well as Gupta’s new framing fits, as an adaptation of Great Expectations, her script is fairly lumbering, touching on most of the important plot points but lacking in zip and spirit of adventure. Co-directors Nick Sandys and Lavina Jadhwani’s staging for this coproduction by Silk Road Rising and Remy Bumppo doesn’t help the sense of torpor, with momentum-draining scene changes seeming to take up as much of the three-hour-plus running time as the action.
There are strong supporting turns in the large cast—primarily Anish Jethmalani’s compassionate Joe, Netta Walker’s chilly Estella and Linda Gillum’s decrepit Miss Havisham—but Anand Bhatt’s Pip spends too much of his character’s arc in slackjawed bafflement to get our expectations too high.
Remy Bumppo Theatre Company and Silk Road Rising. By Charles Dickens. Adapted by Tanika Gupta. Directed by Lavina Jadhwani and Nick Sandys. With Anand Bhatt, Netta Walker, Linda Gillum, Anish Jethmalani, Lane Anthony Flores, Robert D. Hardaway. Running time: 3hrs 10mins; one intermission.