FROM the very moment Magwitch springs from his hiding place to the denouement and reveal, there is no doubting the immense and mesmerising force of Great Expectations, currently playing at Windsor's Theatre Royal, writes Paul Thomas.

Following hot the heels of the last of Ellen Ken's trio of operas at the 'Royal' with Madama Butterfly, the water garden and bamboo home set of which was overwhelmingly brilliant, the stage design for this Dickens classic was again a main star.

With Madama Butterfly, Ken's casting of the rising Korean soprano Maria HeeJung Kim was sublime, her singing and eventual death at her own hands poignantly played out amongst the scenery.

So it is too with this fine production of Great Expectations.

The use of the voices within the structure of the play are set within a marvellous construction which at once has you struggling in the Kent marshes as the convict Magwitch leaps at central character Pip, before turning into the crumbling mansion of Miss Haversham and the streets of Victorian London.

Dark, brooding and foreboding, the lighting conjures up a world of solitary figures, struggling to find their way in a difficult society.

Following a terrifying encounter with escaped convict, Magwitch, young Pip is given an unexpected chance to better himself by visiting the reclusive and mysterious Miss Havisham.

In the decaying grandeur of her house, Pip falls in love with Estella and helped by an anonymous benefactor, he moves to the bustling city to pursue his dream of winning Estella’s heart and of becoming part of the educated elite.

Peopled by some of Dickens’ most colourful and memorable characters and painted in rich, vivid colours across a vast landscape of people and locations, this stunning new version is a powerful and theatrical telling of a true masterpiece.

Olivier Award-winning actress, Nichola McAuliffe, best known for her role in the long-running TV series, Surgical Spirit, leads the cast as the iconic Miss Havisham.

Her portrayal of the ageing jilted bride is malevolent in its bitterness towards young love and her resentment of life palpable.

McAuliffe is unnerving in fleshing out Haversham's hatred of her circumstances and her twisted quest to see others suffer. Her performance is drama personified, her quality setting new standards of acting brilliance.

Sean Aydon as Pip is a delight, circumventing the transition from no-hope boy to a man of grand gesture.

Isla carter as Estella brings fine quality to the character of a girl manipulated and catapulted into unknown circumstances.

Daniel Goode as Magwitch, around whose fate the story hangs, brings a refreshing and dynamic change to this famous character. Goode brings vibrancy, making what could be a dour convict into what he actually is, a man wronged, but able to change lives so different to Haversham in his kindness.

James Camp is exceptional as the bristling Herbert Pocket, while Edward Ferrow as Pip's uncle Joe Gargery and Eliza Collings as Mrs Joe make you wonder how uneducated strugglers living on the estuary lived lives at all.

James Dinsmore as Pumblechook and Jaggers (Pip's lawyer and holder of his benefactor's cash) brings stout, no nonsense grace to proceedings with a definitive performance.

Director Sophie Boyce Couzens has brought the world of Dickensian London into stark relief with this exceptional telling of a famous plot with James Turner's set design so resonantly lit by Richard Williamson.

With shanty-style, back-lit songs, and a melodian gently playing in the background, the sounds and vision of life on the Kent, London borders with all its day-to-day struggles is brought vividly to life.

This is a play not to be missed during its short run at the 'Royal'. It's a couple of hours of immense and intense acting which will have you puzzled, laughing and crying.

Dickens in all his glory could not be more brilliantly constructed on stage.

Ditch the tellybox and get on down to the 'Royal' before it's too late. What larks you'll have.

Great Expectations, Theatre Royal Windsor until tomorrow (Saturday). Box office: 01753 853888 or