Adapted, directed and designed for Bexhill Amateur Theatrical Society by Eric Stevens, ADAPTATION \\ as first attracted by the "-ama tic possibilities of GREAT E T TIONS when I saw a ...: uinness's 1939 version. en tually I de Ided to make my "') I did not want to use a nMra r t(, uinness had two) so this ant that everything relevant to plo t had to be shown, including enw unter with the Hamburg 'IDle r on the Thilmes. I found the e) , u rprisingly easy to adapt. r pI cJo,;ely to Dickens's storyline, .II ,)iten combined the events of 1 'rc'nt chapte rs into a single uence . For instance, young counter with the convict his \'isit to Miss Havisham fol L'ti dircct ly one on the other. In l'nd , my play was in three acts h 29 scenes ilnd 23 chura cters, e llf whom could be doubled.
_ Bex hill Amateur Thea trical p uts on half of its ilnnual uctto ns in the thea tre of the "dl-owned De La Warr l1n, .ln d so I had th at s tage in when prepi'l ring m ad apta It ha. a proscenium opening ~t .m d a similar d epth. In \Ii the prosce nium is a _'a~t: with an entrance on ~l.de. This apron G111 cause .. _t1tlt~5 . as it is nonna.l.ly a vast -" \\ hich the actors hilve to ( . orne be fore they reach the ..nc". and owing to safety . .Jl..J.lion~ nothing ca n b' set per n t l~ un it. l lowe ver, the • n em nt gav e us a large unt of s pace, and I wanted to it it to the full. dt~
o n I consult<o>d the th e
-il>le fo r the lighting to make ilia' they could provide whilt [ Then I designed the set went back to th em with a a p reliminary lighting i'n t through the plJy, ....L"".-.-_~, .. n r was assured that it - ble. We used seven ;:':il OTIS ' pstage on 3 ft t · '" Ha\ 'isham 's room on a 1 ft rostrum a:5 R . .lrea was used for ard. the Fotge and 11;; another S.R. area _ _ "Chambers; a S.L. area
for the Forge Kitchen and Jagge rs's House and the Prison Infirmary; an area On th e Apron K for the Itm Yard and the Ball at Richmond; the correspond ing area Apron L. for the ope ning introductio n, two letter-reading episodes, Miss Havisham's Gate and the Prison Entrance; and the o rchestra pit for the recapture of the convicb on the marshes and the scene with the paddle-steamer. Some 'scenes' flowed from one locality to another. Scene 5, for instance, dealing with Pip's first visit to Miss Havisham,
began Apron K with Uncle Pumblechook escorting young Pip; they crossed tll , ap rOn during the multiplication test Jnd were received by Es tella Apron L.; then Pip a!'ld Estella moved centre stage across the "garden", went into the Hallway where the y met Jaggers, before Pip w ent up to Miss Havisham's room. After the gilme of cards, Pip and Estella came down to the Hall and Pip w ent out into the ga rden where he had his fight with young Herbert. All this was done continuously, with each
area being lit as necessary. The acting area was s urroundeJ black drapes and legs, the vari locations suggested by min i!!" scenery and basic furniture . four-sided box mounted on a and cons isting of two doo r curtained opening and a b l-· wall, was placed diagonally to audience with one door and blank wall used for the ]-OL Kitchen and the other two sides Herbert's Chambers. Other tr u were used for the Forge, the gn.
served as Miss Havisham's ce and the entrance to the n, Magwitch's bed in the arv, and a bookcuse in _ ~ ~< house. Furniture and , were used as necess(J ry, but ....ot consistent: there \ <IS only Jl;j ir in Miss Havisham's in bec<1llse a second was not untiL Act II; in the early - at Herbert's a table and w ~ re required, but not in Act en they were repl<lced by a Itl ngue.
REHEARSALS We had a limited period of six weeks available. Anticipating cast ing problems, I had auditioned well in advance ~nd was able to give most members of the cast indi vidual rehearsals in the interim. This was not jLlst a good idea, it was essential as the first two weeks of the main rehearsals were affect ed by holidays. After blocking each act, the next six rehearsals were d evoted to groups of scenes such as th e Forge Kitchen, Miss Havisham's, Herbert's Chambers, etc., to avoid changing furniture and to accommodate absenc s. The remaining time was devoted to co ntinuity and scene changing. The diffic'ulty he re was that having brought one se t of furniture off, there was little space in our rehearsal room in which to put itl
LIGHTING - to ~ wmputerised lighting the chungos fr om one scene llher we re mon th a nd ins tant t the nigh t when it went .Hds ' ) The equipm c.nt did per mit us to p inpo int each ~o th ere wa inevitably a lot ag ' . BCC<l u.se we were light .lrio u5 par of the stag ' in iso the lighting tended tn be t \'ertical, softened w herevcr Ie b . a I w-pow red pot i1 t I r ~ngh!. A b lue s pot shin cross the s tag' hori.wntally dtmusphere to the chu rch .lnd a companion allowed Pi p tdl ~ to \va lk o ff the stage ilt d into a golden sunsct. '11 .
EFFECTS · o f the e was, of course, the ng of Miss Havisham. A · spot was shone briefly onto ed ding dress from the fire b'fore she was smothered by This had to be a hit or miss • on the opening night, as the ~ had ber.n booked by anoth anisa tion on the day of our , rehearsal, which meant that d to clear the stage entirely th technical and rea ssemble · ·t in the two hours before the There was not time to nro ugh the sequence, i1S we 'h technicians for iI limited _ r of hours.
,-ene on the Thames caused a thought. In the end I decided it in the orchestra pit, as the _ wo uld be seen only from the -t up, leaving the rowing boats imagined, It did not really as everybody \VilS out of of the sound operator who, the lighting technicians, was 'ed behind the proscenium He was supposed to run pe of the steamer, gradually ing in volume, but was '" to judge how far the actors _ t with the scene, and their : , were drowned out long . he steamer was supposed to "truck them. Pip had extinguished Miss
Havisham's flilmes, he had to appear with his hands swa thed in bandages which were removed and replaced by Herbert. We did this by making two "boxing glov e. " which could be slip ped on during a scene change. They were actually two Boots incontinence pads cov ered in strips of old linen sheeti.ng which Herbert unwound and w ound most convincingly.
Pip who is scarcely off the stage. It was decided to give him a basic costume of shir t, waistcoilt and trousers, to which was added and subtracted a variety of hats and coats. This necessitated a special costume plot which detailed pre cisely who was to bring on and take off each item, and whether assis tance was needed in the wings.
The rapid changing of meal set tings was achieved by having them on a false table top, so that the whole thing could be removed in one go.
COSTUMES As soon as I had the go-ahead with the lighting, I consulted our own · workshop who would be ma k mg the se,t the Stage Ma nager who would be responsible for all the fast scene changes, and the Wardrobe Mistress who wouJd have to pro vide a range of costumes for the period 1815 to 1835. The ladi es' dresses were all home produced and some of the men's costumes, keeping our hiring down to a mini mum. The talented S.M. produced a series of designs which proved very useful in discussions with the costumiers. The main problem was
Great interest was shown in the play by our members, and the "sup porting" roles were easily filled at auditions. However, I did not have an older Pip - he is aged 18-22 - and greatly surprised an actor twice that age by asking him to under take the part. Much to my relief he accepted, and by casting similarly with Estella and to some extent with Herbert, the question of age did not bother anyone. Herbert was an awkward problem as I could not find anyone in the Society to play the role. Then one of those miracles that sometimes happen occurred. I was telephoned by an actor in the next town who had heard about the difficulty and was looking for a more serious role than the farces he had been appearing in.
Throughout I was conscious that , technical conside rations were g oing to take precede nce over ve ry thin g else, and this somewha t disconce rted the cast who weT used to the actors having pride of place. This w as es pecially so at our two technical rehearsals - we could not possibly have managed with our uSLIal one - when very few scenes were played in their entirety, One scene '-'.ba nge was practised half a dozen times to get it done in 10 seconds. Much to my surprise and relid, the final running time was 2 hours 40 minutes, including two intervals. Not everything came off, but in spite of a certain raggedness in parts, I was very gratified with the results, especially on the final night when I was able to wa tch the show following the story instead of wor rying about the technicalities. It was a tremendous team effort; in all, 28 members of the Society had been acti vely involved, and it formed a fitting climax to our Diamond Jubilee Year.
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Published on Apr 15, 2012
Eric Stevens discussions his production of Dicken's Great Expectations which he adapted and directed for Bexhill Amateur Theatrical Society