Review: Great Expectations at The Royal Exchange Theatre is ‘powerful, compelling and doesn’t miss a beat’

Step into a world where Dickens meets Bengal in a captivating adaptation of 'Great Expectations' at Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre.

Review of ‘Great Expectations’ at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

With a blend of cultures and powerful performances, this production explores colonialism, identity, and destiny in a thought-provoking narrative.

At a time when the British Empire’s grip on India was at its peak, the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester presents a compelling adaptation of Charles Dickens’s classic novel, “Great Expectations.”


Set in Bengal in 1899, this adaptation by director Pooja Ghai and written by Tanika Gupta weaves a tale that resonates with themes of hope, destiny, and the complex interplay of cultures.

“Great Expectations” transports the audience to a world of uncertainty, where the imminent partition of Bengal looms large, and an Indian boy named Pipli embarks on a journey that will shape his destiny forever.

At the heart of the narrative is Pipli, portrayed with exceptional depth and sensitivity by Esh Alladi.

The journey from his hometown of Rajshahi to the unforgiving streets of Calcutta is depicted with nuance, highlighting the stark contrast between the two worlds.

Pipli’s unwavering pursuit of a better future is portrayed as an embodiment of dharma – the right way of living. Esh Alladi delivers an epic performance, capturing the character’s vulnerability and resilience in equal measure.

The supporting cast is equally impressive, breathing life into a host of memorable characters, each one adding depth and layers to the narrative.

Special mention must be made of the emotional and gripping portrayal of Miss Havisham by Catherine Russell, whose presence lingers long after the final bow.


One of the remarkable aspects of this adaptation is its ability to seamlessly blend the quintessentially British narrative of Dickens with the cultural aspects of Bengal.

Tanika Gupta’s script captures the essence of both worlds, weaving in local customs, rituals, and Bengali colloquialisms without missing a beat.

The result is a production that feels authentic to the audience.

Director Pooja Ghai’s vision for “Great Expectations” is nothing short of amazing. She expertly navigates the play’s complex emotional terrain, drawing out powerful performances from the cast and creating moments of genuine horror and humour.


The play’s exploration of the impending partition of Bengal serves as a timely reminder of the impact of colonialism on the Indian subcontinent.

The simmering tensions and uncertainty that the narrative has mirrored the real-life problems of the time, adding depth and relevance to the story.

The play does not shy away from addressing the uncomfortable truths of British colonial rule, making it a thought-provoking piece of theatre.

While “Great Expectations” is a powerful and moving adaptation, it is not without its moments of complexity.

The narrative takes unexpected turns and takes vast jumps in time, which may leave some audience members grappling to fully understand the intricacies of the story. However, this complexity also adds to the richness of the play and gives a fuller story.

In conclusion, “Great Expectations” at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester is a triumph of storytelling, direction, and performance.

This adaptation of Dickens’ novel transcends cultural boundaries to offer a significant and relevant exploration of colonialism, identity, and destiny.

The production’s stunning set design, powerful performances, and intriguing storytelling make it a must-see for theatre enthusiasts and anyone interested in a thought-provoking and emotionally resonant experience.

It’s on at the Royal Exchange Theatre from Fri 8 Sep – Sat 7 Oct 2023.

You can get your tickets here.

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