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Watford Palace puts Great Expectations in India

Tariq Jordan plays Pip in Great Expectations
Image caption Tariq Jordan plays Pip in Great Expectations

The Watford Palace is playing host to a new take on Great Expectations.

Dickens' epic novel has been transposed to 19th Century India at the time of the Raj in a new version by award-winning playwright Tanika Gupta.

In this version Pip moves from a small Indian village to the bustling streets of Calcutta to pursues his dreams after an encounter with an escaped convict.

Tariq Jordan, who plays Pip, said he thought it worked well.

"It transfers over perfectly really because it [is set] at the time when it was under British rule," he explained.

"Essentially Pip becomes a young boy from India who wants to get away from the life he's living and wants to immerse himself in the English culture and become an English gentleman.

"We have the majority of the same text from the original book but it's just woven into the Indian culture, I think it fits really well.

"He's a village boy in India and he has aspirations and dreams to lead this other life. Due to the British rule at the time, I guess he gets a glimpse of that."

'An English gentleman'

In the original novel, Pip visits the home of Miss Haversham where he falls in love with the heartless Estella. The same happens in this production but Miss Haversham lives in crumbling colonial grandeur.

So in this version, directed by Nikolai Foster, instead of just wanting to be a gentleman, the difference is that Pip specifically wants to be a British gentleman.

"But little does he know that even though he thinks that he's become an English gentleman there's only so far the English at the time will allow someone from India to get," Mr Jordan said.

"At the times of the Raj it was very much they must know their place and I think that's conveyed really well with the writing."

Mr Jordan said this piece has great resonance with today, especially the Dickensian theme of you will get on if you work hard.

"It's relevant even to today, [because] here's a young lad who wants to break away from the shackles that have been placed on him from the situation that he lives in and he wants to better himself.

"It's like with the student riots," he added. "You can imagine someone like Pip going to those because he's a young lad from a background that isn't very privileged and he has a great mind on his shoulders.

"He's very inquisitive, he wants to get somewhere in life and that push, that drive, sends him into English society.

"There is also a sequence of events and luck but it starts with just this ambition and determination. And it's so relevant to today because we have students who say that education shouldn't just be for the privileged and I think that's kind of what Dickens is also trying to say."

'Universal emotions'

Mr Jordan said it does not matter which country the story is set in though as the play is about the characters.

"These emotions are universal in any culture, we all feel love, anger and the shackles that are placed on us every day so I think anyone would be able to connect with it. Whether it's in India or England it's a universal idea. It just tells you how relevant someone like Dickens is.

"We're all putting in a great amount of work and I think you will see the love and care that's gone into it. I think it will be a great production. I'd definitely want to see it."

The play has been commissioned by the Watford Palace Theatre in a co- production with English Touring Theatre and is on from 17 February to 12 March 2011.

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