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World Book Night: director Sophie Boyce Couzens on bringing Dickens to the stage

Posted on 23 April 2018

With Monday 23 April marking World Book Night, we’re looking forward to welcoming one of English literature’s best-loved stories to our Main Stage next week. Heading to the Belgrade Theatre 2-5 May, Great Expectations will be vividly reimagined by Malvern Theatres and Tilted Wig Productions in a brand new adaptation by Ken Bentley.

Live music, stylised design and a dynamic, versatile cast of five work together to breathe fresh life into Charles Dickens’ genre-defying masterpiece, over 150 years after its initial publication. Ahead of the show’s arrival at the Belgrade, director Sophie Boyce Couzens tells us more about the process of taking the book from page to stage.

Great Expectations

Script and story telling

For this particular production, the first thing that happened was a read-through of the script. This was brilliant as it was a chance to hear the characters being brought to life by a group of actors. I then discussed the script with the Adaptor and Producers before the next draft was created.

After that, it was really about continuing to familiarise myself with the script. It is important to know it inside out so that all creative decisions start from the story that we are telling. As this adaptation is being created specifically for the production, the script is still changing which is really exciting.

With this production, it was immediately clear that it celebrates the ensemble of actors, so I needed to look at how we bring this story to life by collaborating as a company to tell Pip’s journey as the central story.

Great Expectations

Design

I have also been meeting with James Turner, the designer, in order to share ideas and to develop the set. The play jumps from location to location at some speed, and in keeping with a production that relies on multi-roling and ensemble storytelling, the set is not naturalistic, but is instead a physical representation of Pip’s world expanding, his isolation, and his sense of being an outsider looking in.

As a director, once this becomes clearer the process can really take off as you can begin to imagine different moments, or be inspired to find creative and exciting ways of telling the story as an ensemble. These conversations also then take place with Max Pappenheim and Ollie King, Sound Designer and Musician, and Richard Williamson, the Lighting Designer. As each of these conversations take place, new ideas emerge.

Great Expectations

Casting

A key part of the process is casting. For this production, we have assembled a company of actors who are excellent collaborators, as an ability and desire to play and contribute ideas is essential for a production such as this where the story is mammoth and the challenge is to ensure playful clarity.

Great Expectations

Rehearsals

After casting, over the next month or so I will continue to develop ideas, draw up a rehearsal schedule, continue regular conversations with creatives and get as ready as possible for a month of rehearsing in London.

My favourite part of the process is the technical rehearsal. I love the moment when everything, every idea, every thought suddenly comes together. It also means we are only days away from the first audience seeing the production, and this is what it’s all been about.

Great Expectations

Great Expectations runs at the Belgrade Theatre 2-5 May. Tickets are available to book now.

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Nov 2, 2017, 9:22 am