Bleak Expectations Reviews

The West End premiere of Dickens mash up Bleak Expectations has opened at the Criterion Theatre in London.

London theatre critics are reviewing the show, and we’ve put together a round-up of their reviews – see below.

This hilarious, fast-paced comedy is written by Mark Evans and directed by Caroline Leslie, based on the hit BBC Radio 4 comedy.

Each week Bleak Expectations stars a very special guest in the role of narrator Sir Philip (“Pip”) Bin. Stars already confirmed include Craig Ferguson, Robert Lindsay, Tom Allen, Adjoa Andoh, Alexander Armstrong, Jo Brand, Jack Dee, Stephen Fry, Nish Kumar, Lee Mack, Stephen Mangan, Ben Miller, Sue Perkins, Julian Clary, Dermot O’Leary and Nina Wadia, and Sally Philips took the honours for the press week. (See the Bleak Expectations show page for the full line-up and dates).

The cast of the show also includes Ashh Blackwood, Shane David-Joseph, J.J. Henry, John Hopkins, Dom Hodson, Serena Manteghi, Marc Pickering and Rachel Summers.

The creative team includes Designer Katie Lias, Lighting Designer Andrew Exeter, Sound Designer Ella Wahlström, and Casting Director Lucy Jenkins and Sooki McShan.

Bleak Expectations runs at the Criterion Theatre until 3 September 2023.

More reviews to follow

Book tickets to Bleak Expectations at the Criterion Theatre in London

Bleak Expectations reviews

The Telegraph

"This Dickens pastiche is English eccentricity at its madcap best"

"Based on the Radio 4 series, this spoof, now at the Criterion, is informed and quick-witted"

"... Evans’ send-up of that classic, and other relevant tomes, is so informed and quick-witted it doesn’t just fly the flag for intelligent parodies it salutes Dickens’ genius. Its wry modern eye does, in passing, take on and mock relevant period elements, whether it be flamboyant sentimentality and contrasting repression, or colonial exploitation and female oppression. But it does this without losing its winning silliness or flogging the pastiche to death."

"Even a comedian as expert as Sally Phillips (heartily narrating the opening performances, abetted by a large stick-on tache) must glance at their script, jeopardising the rhythm. But these appearances are deftly integrated and the main cast are so clued-up that you could stick Ann Widdecombe in the role and it would probably still work"

Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph
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The Times

"This parody doesn’t know when to stop"

"... for all this stage adaptation’s jollity scene by scene, for all the lustful playing of its cast of eight, a few of whom were in its first run at the Watermill in Newbury in the summer, this is insistently jokey and regrettably long."

"Dom Hodson adroitly mixes sincerity and silliness as our hero, Pip Bin."

"Sally Phillips, this week’s headliner, doesn’t quite work her usual magic here. Perhaps Stephen Fry, Sue Perkins, Julian Clary, Lee Mack, Stephen Mangan, Tom Allen (Pip in the original series), Nish Kumar, Jo Brand, Ben Miller or Alexander Armstrong will fare better."

"The best moments have the most fun with the staging: Pickering swiftly swapping headgear to go from being a nasty judge to playing three gormless jurors, say."

Dominic Maxwell, The Times
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The Guardian

"Agreeably funny Dickensian spoof as cosy as a woollen teapot"

"Caroline Leslie’s production sends up the less problematic Victorian foibles with a terrifically spirited barrage of juicy one-liners, blunt anachronisms and pleasing melodrama"

"About the era’s sexism and sexlessness, Bleak Expectations jokes relentlessly. About more topical controversies, it has little to say, leaving undisturbed the jollity that results when you satirise only those 1800s foibles we all already agree on. It does this with considerable vim, as the cast of characters familiar from the airwaves reassemble."

"... he narrative momentum lags in Act Two, as Pip laboriously courts a young wife who promptly ups and dies. But it’s all achieved with brio in a production – by Caroline Leslie – spirited enough to get away with never taking itself remotely seriously."

Brian Logan, The Guardian
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The Evening Standard

"Mediocre Dickens parody chunters along"

"To borrow one of the show’s parodic lines: please sir, could we have some less"

"Dickens spoofs leave me even colder because they are just too easy. His authorial voice is so distinct, his characters so close to caricature, the plots so familiar."

"This latest attempt, by TV and radio writer Mark Evans, is a particularly undemanding example of the overworked genre."

"The rest of the cast have two modes of expression: a wide-eyed, school-play parody of earnestness or fizzing hysteria. Dom Hodson recalls a young Robert Bathurst in his good-chap bafflement as Pip, while John Hopkins’s Gently Benevolent is a cackling panto villain."

"It’s too lazy and tired to achieve that, though the audience at the midweek matinee I attended gave it a resounding “hurrah, huzzah and harrumble” at the end."

Nick Curtis, The Evening Standard
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Daily Mail

"Are there enough fans to render this more than an old curiosity shop?"

"Verdict: Not the Dickens"

"To be fair to Bleak Expectations — a stage spin-off of Mark Evans's Radio 4 comedy series — it is a travesty not just of Dickens's complete works, but the entire 19th century."

"In the absence of a worthwhile satirical target, much depends on director Caroline Leslie's commendably choreographed capering."

"Fans of the radio show will cheer it on, but are there enough to render this creaky stage version more than an old curiosity shop?"

Patrick Marmion, Daily Mail
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The Stage

"Dickensian spoof is entertaining but runs out of steam"

"Amusing stage adaptation of the award-winning radio comedy wears thin surprisingly quickly"

"... despite Leslie’s boisterous direction, Evans’ satiric flair and a thoroughly entertaining ensemble, this is a long haul. The first act runs out of steam quite quickly, and while there are undeniable belly-laughs in the second half, there’s a feeling that this is a fringe skit, uncomfortably drawn out to West End proportions."

Paul Vale, The Stage
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The Sunday Times

"This prolonged skit on Dickens almost evokes the Goons in its humour. There are surreal and anachronistic gags."

"A little drollery is never unwelcome, but here it is overstrenuous. Give me the unashamed rapture of a Lloyd Webber musical any day."

Quentin Letts, The Sunday Times
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Daily Express

"Bleak Expectations has 'schoolboy surrealism and inoffensive silliness"

"Based on Mark Evans’ Radio 4 parody of Charles Dickens, this is a genteel comic romp through Victorian literary types. Played with bright-eyed enthusiasm by a sterling cast, Caroline Leslie’s production remains faithful to the verbal pastiche and elaborate metaphors while adding a touch of Feydeau-like farce to the physical proceedings."

"Seasoned with schoolboy surrealism, its inoffensive silliness is enough to put a smile on the face of all but the most demanding theatregoer."

Neil Norman, Daily Express
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📷 Main photo: Bleak Expectations Photo by Manuel Harlan

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