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Theatre Review: Nae Expectations ***

Michael Cox reviews a production that entertains but disappoints.

To say that there are great expectations for Nae Expectations would be an understatement. A new stage version by acclaimed writer Gary McNair with a cast that includes Gerry Mulgrew and Karen Dunbar, this production marks the end of artistic director Andy Arnold’s seminal 15-year reign at the Tron Theatre. With such names, expectations are indeed high—unfortunately they aren’t completely met.

Is the fact the production is more of a fizzle the fault of having such ‘great’ expectations? Perhaps.

Great Expectations is one of Charles Dickens’ most iconic stories and contains some of his greatest characters. It follows the life of Pip, first as a child (whose two main adventures here surround befriending escaped convict Magwitch and playing in the near abandoned estate of the jilted Miss Havisham) before maturing and being awarded a fortune by an unknown benefactor. Headed into the big city, Pip witnesses the corruption money can bring—before becoming ensnared in the trap of finances himself.

The ensemble of the production is uniformly terrific. Most of the cast play multiple roles but inhabit a main character, and they have a wonderful connection with each other that is playful and a joy to watch. Dunbar and Mulgrew certainly stand out as Miss Havisham and Magwitch—well serving what arguably are two of literature’s greatest creations—but it is Gavin Jon Wright who rightfully stands out as the hero Pip. With energy that never dips and an easy to root for aura, Wright easily holds the audience for the entire run time and makes for an engaging yet flawed lead.

There is no denying that McNair’s script has a lot of zip and intelligence. Unfortunately, it also has flaws. For one, the play is too long: it overstays its welcome by running well past two and a half hours. The bigger problem, however, is in the fact it suffers from an identity crisis: it cannot decide if it is a wind up of the original, a jokey Scots version or an earnest retelling using a Scots dialect. Any of these choices would be valid, but by bouncing between the three styles the production feels inconsistent and becomes difficult to engage with.

Arnold’s staging is similar—at times grandiose, occasionally grotesque and sometimes farcical. The comedic action moves at a good pace, and there are stand-out moments of pathos that are beautiful. Unfortunately, more often than not, everything is a bit flippant, making it a production that works only in spurts.

And yet, Dickens’ original story and the cast’s commitment win out. Nae Expectations is indeed a good night out—it just isn’t the notable production some were expecting, or indeed hoping for.

Nae Expectations performs at the Tron Theatre until November 4, 2023.

Tags: theatre

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