Pict’s ‘Great Expectations’ spans time and imagination
By Alice Carter, Trib Total Media
For its final production of the 2014 season, Pict Classic Theatre will bring Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations” to the stage of the Charity Randall Theatre.
Those who have read the sprawling Victorian novel know it’s a multi-character epic that spans decades as it takes Pip from the marshes of Kent to the streets of London.
Pip’s life and early expectations as a blacksmith’s apprentice are turned upside-down when he learns that a wealthy-but-anonymous donor has provided him with a large sum of money that will allow him to live a very different life as a gentleman.
It’s the perfect tale for Christmas and not just because that’s the day on which Pip’s story begins, says Alan Stanford, Pict’s artistic and executive director who also is directing the production.
“Experience tells me that one thing people love at Christmas is that sense of goodwill and that everything will come out right,” Stanford says. “It’s good to take one of Dickens’ moral tales and have it play out for an audience who wants that feeling of good cheer.”
To bring “Great Expectations” to the stage, Stanford chose Hugh Leonard’s adaptation of Dickens’ novel.
Leonard’s script moves cinematically and quickly through some 44 scenes, some only 10 lines long, Stanford says.
“It captures the essence of the book and tells (the story) beautifully,” Stanford says. “You get snapshots of wonderful Dickens characters.”
The show has a cast of 15. Charged with costuming all those characters is Joan Markert, who has designed the wardrobes for many Pict productions, including “A School for Lies,” “Lady Windermere’s Fan” and this season’s productions of “Blithe Spirit” and “Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme.”
“The biggest challenge is to express the character in the costume and to take costumes from diverse plays in the same period and make them work together,” Markert says. “I would have loved to design and build (all the costumes) but time, money and energy doesn’t allow that.”
Given those restrictions, creating costumes for “Great Expectations” was more a matter of alterations, adjustments and minor changes than construction, Markert says.
Many of the costumes for “Great Expectations” were created for earlier shows such as “Quills,” “Dracula” and “A Christmas Carol” at the Pittsburgh Playhouse where she works as a costume designer and costume supervisor for Point Park University.
“Those shows are from the same period, so we had a good batch of clothes to draw from,” Markert says. “The fluid structure of the production made it important that characters could alter their appearances or circumstances with minor adjustments to their attire.”
Characters may transit between distant locations while taking a single step onstage or move seamlessly from an interior scene to an outside setting or from the country to the city. Characters need to remove or add costume elements to indicate those changes as well as their altered status or class as they move up and down or aspire to a new level in society, she says.
Getting all the elements to mesh is a big challenge, says Stanford, who defines his job as director as, “To get the cast, design team and crew working with one simple objective — show an image, move on and let the audience fill in the gaps and tell themselves the story.”