Expectations of Great Expectations: Eddie Izzard at Cadogan Hall, Friday, 3rd of January 2020

“I love your skirt!” came the holler from a lady in the front row, just as the exuberant applause greeting Eddie to the stage had died down (albeit only after he’d admonished us with “I haven’t done anything yet!”)

“Thank you, I like it too, I think Dickens would have approved,” came Eddie’s reply, before musing on how transgender interpretations of his works was definitely what Dickens was aiming for when writing his books all those years ago.

This was my 8th time seeing Eddie Izzard live, but apart from the first ten minutes or so, it was a very different experience to the usual break-neck pace of wit and ideas and odd tangents and intense, vital-function impairing laughter that usually ensues at an Eddie gig. The opening segment might have been business as usual, with Eddie exchanging gags with the crowd (“I told those people not to come. They’re smelly people.” he declared gesturing to a sizeable swathe of empty chairs in the front rows) as he told the story of how this show came about. If his reading of an audiobook of “Great Expectations” wasn’t an impressive enough feat for a dyslexic such as himself to achieve, in his usual astonishingly ambitious style he then decided to take it out on the road as a one man show to indulge his great love of acting, using a version of the text abridged by his brother.

And once the “Great Expectations” portion of the show started, it was a much more hushed audience than I’m used to at an Eddie show, bar the odd coughing fit from those still not quite over their Christmas lurgies echoing round the grand auditorium. Performing the story first with his abridged text in hand, Eddie embodied each character brilliantly, incorporating his comedy technique of turning to face a different direction to indicate a different character was talking.

Towards the end of the first half Eddie passed his text to a colleague hidden behind a door, and impressively given that this was a work in progress show, only had to call “line!” once during the rest of the performance. It was truly mesmerising to see him in such a different setting to normal, with the subtle ingenuity of his reading of the text bringing every pivotal moment of the story to life, whether sad or funny or scary or heartwarming. His love for the book shone through at all times.

As this was a work in progress show, I look forward immensely to the prospect of seeing the final polished version when it is ready – though it seems to be nearly at that point already. Having said that, I’d be equally thrilled even to attend another work in progress version, especially if Eddie fulfils the ambition he relayed to us at the start of the show – to do a work in progress performance at Wembley Stadium.

At the end, Eddie encouraged us to raise a round of applause for Charles Dickens and his spirit of goodness. I will admit to not being as well-versed in the Dickens back catalogue as I should be – I’ve seen many TV adaptations, but rarely made it through a whole novel. But this compelling performance of “Great Expectations” has inspired me to rectify that. And I can think of no better place to start with that “Great Expectations” itself, and Eddie’s own complete reading of the book.

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