Great Expectations in modern life

Start reading Great Expectations and you’ll start seeing its characters and its situations everywhere, says former EastEnder Simone James.

Simone, who played the manipulative Becca Swanson in the soap, is now playing Estella in the new touring version of Dickens’ classic tale (Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, April 19-23).

“It is just such a relevant play,” says Simone. “It is a timeless classic. People use that phrase quite loosely, but this really is. I wasn’t aware of just how close the play is to our hearts until we started doing it, and now we are seeing it all over the place.

“It’s like every conversation we are having is like ‘Oh, that’s just like Great Expectations!’”

This is Great Expectations with a difference, however - moved to late 19th century India, a move which works well, says Simone.

“India’s culture is so rich and vibrant and complicated and it feels very much like Dickens’ England. This was India before independence, pre-Gandhi and there was a feeling of the need to change, just as there was in Victorian England at that time.

“Estella is a very difficult part to play. She is so complicated and so individual. You see her characteristics in men usually. It’s the whole love them and leave them thing and show no emotion. It’s like ‘He’s a player, he’s a playboy, he’s never going to settle down’. Dickens’ genius is to put that in a woman where you realise that she is so damaged a person that she is afraid of love.

“It’s definitely mental in her. It’s manifested in her relationship with Pip, someone who loves her and someone who is willing to love her unconditionally, but she does not see it. She continues to pursue a relationship with someone else that will never love her or respect her she is so confused and blinded.”

A damaged character indeed - and the latest in a long succession Simone has played, most notably Becca in EastEnders.

“It was a great show to do. It’s an institution. I did about a year.”

Will she go back?

“I don’t know. You would never say never. That’s the thing about this business. You just don’t know, but I wouldn’t shut the door on it.”

Tickets on 01483 440000.