The Unadulterated Satisfaction in ‘Great Expectations’

Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts Special Events

Atop the smallest of tables occupying an otherwise bare stage sits a suitcase.

A bloke, the most apt appellation I can think of to apply to the balding, wide-eyed soul, comes blundering onto the stage as if searching for his misplaced lorry keys. 

There passes a tense moment.

The audience has come in expectation of a theatrical interpretation of one of the great classics of English literature; that 183,349-word bildungsroman boasting six principal characters, 33 secondary characters and scores of supernumeraries – Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations—said adaptation having been accomplished by playwright Andrew McPherson.

The bloke who stood staring out at them gave the impression he had accidentally stumbled onto the stage in a quest for a cheap fish and chip tide-over.  There seemed little in the way of a Dickensian swagger about him.

And then he opened the suitcase.

As it turned out there were not many items that lay within it.

A block of wood labeled “forge,” a hat, a towel, seven objects all told.  But performer David Mynne encases each item, layer by layer, with a distinctiveness and purpose of his own imagining until, like the minuscule sand grain within an oyster, it becomes a pearl of great worth.  Then Mynne draws his audience into the world, woven of his own imagination, and we follow like a herd of giddy Alices entranced by the scurrying of the White Rabbit.

When I told a couple of friends that I was attending a one-man performance of Great Expectation they stood and waited for me to break-wise with the punch line.

But pulling off a surprising and entertaining feat of stagecraft at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Mynne and his director Simon Harvey have delivered the goods.

(Courtesy of Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts)

In addition to the story’s protagonist and narrator Philip Pirrip, known as “Pip,” Mynne accounts for 14 of the novel’s major characters and about three score worth of minor ones.  But Mynne also performs as the bellows and hissing steam of Joe Gargery’s forge, Magwitch’s chains, the march of troops, ducks in flight, the denizens of London, the snip and cut of tailors, the conflagration of cloth, the thundering of river paddle, nuptial’s festivities, the pursuit through a graveyard.

Mynne is not only a cast of characters, he’s his very own Foley department.

There is of course a good deal of abbreviation involved here to frame the needed reading of the full novel; about 8 hours if you do it non-stop, into a 90-minute show.

Mynne accomplishes this by a playfully clever puppetry whose staggering effectiveness is rooted in its utter simplicity; thus finding shorthand for a Dickens crafted with amazing artistry.  Estella, the ward of Miss Havisham, for example, is represented by a small, dainty hand mirror.  Whose glass is cracked.

Mynne and co-writer Harvey have selected the choicest pearls from that vast bed that is Dickens and strung them together with a capering mirth so infectious that his audience is never sensible of what is missing from the stage at the demands of necessity.

The addition of mirth also functions in the magnification of the agonies, heartache and humanity of Pip and all those inhabiting his world.

Yes, there are purists who will take umbrage at Mynne slyly dropping into his audible rendering of Victorian London, a bar or two of a tune familiar to any fan of Mary Poppins, but here is the happiest of hybrids: half-Dickens, half-Monty Python and a tailor made fit at that.

I now find myself repeating what is becoming a common reframe to these reviews I’m penning of the Wallis’ fare, Mister Mynne and Mister Harvey, do come again.

And stay longer.

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Great Expectations
ran for a limited event
Feb 8  11

Venue: The Lovelace Studio Theatre

By Charles Dickens

Adapted by Andrew McPherson

Additional text by Simon Harvey and David Mynne

Directed by Simon Harvey

Performed by David Mynne

Next on my schedule for the Wallis is Ton Dugan’s Jackie Unveiled with Saffron Burrows as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, at the Wallis’ Lovelace Studio Theater February 22 to March 11.

For Complete Wallis Center of the Performing Arts Limited Event information click HERE.


The terms “Jobberknowle” or “gilly-gaupus” would better serve.  But I don’t want to send you dashing for the OED.

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An award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note who has hoisted glasses with Orson Welles, been arrested on three continents and once beat up Charlie Manson. His first play, "Among the Vipers" was a semi-finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition and was featured in the Carnegie-Mellon Showcase of New Plays. It was produced at the NPT Theater in Ashland, Oregon and Los Angeles’ celebrated Odyssey Ensemble Theatre. His following play, “The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters” was produced at The Hollywood Actors Theater, where he earned praise from the Los Angeles Times for his “…inordinately creative writing.” The play went on to numerous other productions including Berlin’s The Black Theatre under the direction of Rainer Fassbinder who wrote in his program notes of Kearney, “He is a skilled playwright, but more importantly he is a dangerous one.” Ernest Kearney has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist, three times, in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His work has been performed by Michael Dunn, Sandra Tsing Loh, Jack Colvin and Billy Bob Thornton, and to date, either as playwright or director, he has upwards of a hundred and thirty productions under his belt, including a few at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as puppeteer. After a wild and misspent youth, which lasted well into middle age, Kearney has settled down and is focusing on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. Ernest’s stage reviews and social essays can be found at and Follow him on Facebook.

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