Nae Expectations exceeded expectations!
By Zara Grew (she/her)
Nae Expectations premiered last week at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow. The somewhat pessimistic title is a Scots twist on the classic novel Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. As the title suggests, the play reimagines the original story and its characters as thoroughly Scottish. The Glaswegian dialect which runs through piece offers relatability, not only by illuminating the text through hearty Glaswegian humour but also by touching on the reality of the classism and internalised shame which burdens working class Scottish people.
This Glaswegian retelling of Dickens’ Great Expectations was cleverly adapted by Gary McNair, a Glaswegian writer and theatre performer who devised a similarly successful adaption of The Alchemist for the Tron in 2019.
Nae Expectations was a particularly momentous production for The Tron. The play marked the end of an era for director Andy Arnold who is stepping down from his role of Artistic Director after 16 years with the company. Andy Arnold made his career by thinking outside the box and is known for larger-than-life theatric productions. This theatrical yet poignant Dickensian adaptation was the perfect parting gift from Arnold to theatre goers in Glasgow.
The play was a fast pace, whistle stop tour of the Victorian classic. Despite its two and a half hour run time it felt dynamic and smoothly spanned the coming of age of central character Pip. Played by Simon Donaldson, Pip brought a fantastic energy to the piece and Donaldson connected with the audience by capturing key moments of vulnerability and breaking from the scene to share this with the audience.
The talented ensemble cast played a variety of roles and made the transitions look easy. Actors Jamie Marie Leary and Simon Donaldson were transformed as they went from peasants to members of high society in seconds. All of the cast morphed seamlessly between roles, creating a tapestry of characters which interacted with and influenced the journey of protagonist Pip.
The design for this production furthered the creative cohesion as it balanced concise with campy and enhanced the production as a whole. In particular, the costume and set team excelled by honouring the traditional aspects of the text. The production was delightfully historical, and the designers were able to transform the tron into Victorian Glasgow. It was actually refreshing to see a traditional adaption of a classic. While some would have opted to set the play in the present day, it was a bold choice to make it true to the time period.
The production playfully enhanced the text by combining Dickens’s humour with Scottish slang. Arnold pointed out, in a post-show discussion, that the novel was already incredibly witty, and he wanted to make sure this was incorporated. The production stayed true to the original text, keeping key moments such as the absurd fight between Pip and upper-class bachelor ‘Kelvin Pocket’. However, with the hilarity also came moments of emotional intensity which disarmed the audience. These solemn scenes were arguably more impactful as they were juxtaposed with the farcical, theatrical style and the play tactfully navigated the balance of comedy and tragedy.
This play was a joy to watch. The translation of the original text to Scot’s illuminated issues of class struggle and shame, which is a reality for many people who’ve grown up in Glasgow. For anyone who’s ever been ashamed of who they are or where they grew up, this play is a needed reminder that you are enough.
The message of the play is underpinned in the discerning moment when Joe is welding and says to Pip “this is alright this, intit”. This moment of true contentment encapsulates the key message of the play; to be grateful for what you have. The audience are left contemplating their own gratitude and the joy which can be unearthed in the everyday. In reworking Dickens’s text, the message has been made clear and impactful to a Scottish audience as it is presented with familiarity, giving it the ability to, quite literally, hit home.