The second week begins as I am fitted for a couture gown which has been specially created by Giovanni Bedin of The House of Worth! The idea is that we’ll get a glimpse, in a publicity photograph, of the grand dress that Miss Havisham may have worn on her wedding day.
As you probably know, the story of Great Expectations begins many, many years after the day that Miss Havisham was jilted at the altar and her wedding dress has been decaying since then. The dress that I shall wear during the show will reflect the rotting and disintegration that has taken place, and the idea of seeing her in all her finery on the fateful day is a revolutionary one.
The fitting was kind of strange; people from Italy had flown in with silks and satins crammed into carry-on airline bags. I stood still and was festooned with metre after metre of snow white lace and silk and net; large sleeves were tried on and rejected in favour of even larger ones; a train was added, taken away and then added again. I felt like a doll being played with by oversized children as they fussed and clucked around me. My dress is going to be gossamer, elaborate and probably quite fragile. Estella’s dresses are being created by Giovanni too, but hers have to be worn onstage, so they not only have to fulfill the couturier’s sense of style and beauty, but also need to be rugged enough to endure night after night of hard wear. Good luck, I say!
Since Tuesday, we have worked into the night a couple of times (we couldn’t be called on Monday, a Bank Holiday). On Wednesday we began to work on a marked-up set, with a large rostrum in the middle to represent the banqueting table where the wedding festivities were supposed to take place. The scenes are all short and the action moves along very quickly. We learnt that it is imperative to start a fresh scene immediately the previous one ends, so that the audience’s attention is never allowed to wander. We hope to keep them enthralled by the constant action, the endless to-ing and fro-ing as Pip is manipulated, by convict, sister, lawyer and of course by the mysterious Miss Havisham and the unattainable Estella.
During the course of the play Graham McLaren, the director, is creating a busy London street scene, a great formal Charity Ball and a capsizing boat on the Thames; suddenly all those physical jerks that we do in the morning are paying off as actors race around the stage making these iconic images come to life.
Last week I described how, miraculously, we had run Act One. On Saturday of our second week we ran the play! Well, yes, some lines went astray (and, yes, some of them were mine!) and the London street scene didn’t look too terribly busy, just a bit pre-occupied.
But the whole thing is promising. And it’s moving. And it tells of the awful plight of the poor in Dickens’ time. During next week we have to go from just getting through a run to creating an ever-moving spectacle that will thrill and amaze you.
Watch this space!