Eddie Izzard in Great Expectations
Photograph: Courtesy Carol RoseggGreat Expectations
  • Theatre, Comedy
  • Recommended


Eddie Izzard: Great Expectations

3 out of 5 stars

Comedy legend Izzard’s one-woman version of the Dickens classic is great fun if a little conservative


Time Out says

One of the perks of being a certain level of famous is that you can mount a show about pretty much anything you want. Shakespeare's Women? Have at it, Miriam Margolyes. Obscure Minnesotan poet Louis Jenkins? You be you, Mark Rylance. Honestly, I’ve got a lot of time for the genre of theatre where great actors school us in their deepest passions. Eddie Izzard’s solo offering is a welcome but surprisingly staid addition to the canon, offering a loving, detailed take on Dickens’s most lovable novel.

Still, fans won't be disappointed by this pacy two-act show, which showcases Izzard’s ability to hold a room spellbound as she embodies haughty ice queen Stella or gravelly-voiced convict Magwitch.

Rigged out in a fetching frockcoat and stilettos, she goes for a faithful two-hour canter through this short but densely-plotted story, letting Dickens give us most of the best laughs (bar the odd hammy flourish). She’s endlessly physical, corkscrewing down a spiral staircase or gliding along in a carriage with marathon-honed vigour, capturing the flamboyance and panto-ish boisterousness of Dickens' story.

Still, there's not much room for Izzard's rambling, surreal comedic style to spread its wings here. While last month's BBC Great Expectations adaptation scandalised the country's more fragile viewers by turning Miss Havisham into an opium addict and inserting a kinky whipping scene, Izzard has kept things very much PG, and faithful to the text.

Sweetly, this adaptation is the handiwork of her brother Mark, who pulls out the original’s themes of familial loyalty and social class, rather than its bleaker satirical passages. The relationship between Pip and his honorary father Joe comes to the fore; humble young Pip’s head is turned by ideas of the great fortune he’ll one day inherit, without realising that Joe's love and care is worth far more.

This shift in focus means that the evening's emotional peaks and troughs come a little early. Pip's final encounter with Stella feels rushed, rather than heartbreaking, while the rip-roaring adventure of the story's final passages is hard to visualise.

That's not helped by director Selina Cadell's low-key staging, which offers just the odd lighting change to summon up the transitions from open farmland to dank chambers. And Tom Piper's set involves lots of red velvet drapery and a window frame, the kind of set-up you can imagine touring to a village hall.

It's all quite an old-school, quaint, Edinburgh Fringe-y affair, lifted by Izzard’s charisma and star power. Her fans (and those of Dickens) will be delighted but I wished that more of her wickedness and subversion had been invited to join Miss Havisham’s mouldering banquet. 


£25-£96.50. Runs 2hr
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