An Interview with Tom Canton, Pip in Great Expectations

The sound of a blacksmith’s has been resonating from the Theatre for last few days as Great Expectations is teched ready for previews on Fri 27 Sep. All the cast, crew and creative team are working round the clock to get the show installed and ready to go. Lights have been focused, a 1 in 12 rake installed and each break time the company kitchen is mobbed by hungry workers desperate for a tea before they head back in for another shift, and they’re often oddly costumed. Playing Pip is Tom Canton, and having graduated from RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art), he has been busy working in theatre, film and television. We caught up with him to ask him about show…

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Tell us about your character in Great Expectations.
Pip is a treat of a part. His journey is huge and he’s such a rich character. Dickens has created a character that has many flaws, yet is self justified and, for better or worse, totally a product of his experience. As we all are.

Pip can be mercilessly cruel and self serving in his love for Estella and his quest to ‘better’ himself, and, as he painfully remembers, often to those dearest to him at the time. He’s also an incredibly sensitive, genuinely caring character who throughout his life has sought a place to belong and seems to find it harder to feel fulfilled at every twist and turn.

How have you found rehearsals?
It has been hard work from all involved and a lot of fun along the way. We are in excellent hands with Neil and the creative team, and we’re working rigorously to tell this incredible story. Personally, working with such a company of actors has been cracking. It’s a very good cast.

How is this production different from other productions of Great Expectations?
Our take couldn’t be more different. I think Neil’s adaptation gets to the heart and the soul of both Pip and the characters he meets; which seems apt, the heart being a prominent, recurring theme of the story.

Our play, just like the novel, is told through the memory and recollection of Pip. It almost feels like an exorcism of long haunting demons. The through line that I think is sometimes missed in other adaptations is that of really a rather scarred individual, morphed through time and experience into the man that begins the first words of the piece, recollecting a raw, memorable afternoon on the marshes of Kent over 25 years previously.

I remember Neil saying in rehearsals how, each for their own reasons, every character in the play has their own ‘Great Expectations’. They become what they become, or are what they are, because of how those hopes and dreams they all had for themselves panned out as time went on.

It’s often described as a tragedy but I think this does a disservice to the themes of hope, true love, friendship, forgiveness and redemption coursing through this story’s veins. Our version, fantastically, also manages to be very funny in good measure.

What’s your favourite moment in the show?
From when it starts to when it ends.

What’s it been like working with Neil Bartlett (director and adaptor)?
We worked together a year ago on his adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray at The Abbey, Dublin. This time around has been no less exciting, inspiring, informative or educational.

What’s the best bit about being involved in a production like this?
All of the above! And to have a character that spans and often jumps between the ages of seven, fourteen, eighteen, twenty-one and thirty-four is pretty much a once in a lifetime gig.

And what are you most looking forward to in the next few weeks?
Opening and getting some previews under our belts, but we are in tech at the moment and seeing Rick Fisher’s lighting and Tim X Atack’s soundscape come into play is pretty awe-inspiring.

Great Expectations runs at Bristol Old Vic (27 Sep- 2 Nov). Find out more here.

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