Family Values – Deborah Drakeford on Great Expectations

Soulpepper company member Deborah Drakeford talks about working with her husband, Oliver Dennis, in Great Expectations directed and adapted by Michael Shamata.

Deborah Drakeford

In Great Expectations, Oliver plays Joe the blacksmith and I play Mrs. Joe, his wife. Mrs. Joe is Pip’s elder sister who brings him up from infancy after the death of their parents. When Joe and Mrs. Joe marry, Joe essentially adopts Pip. For some reason, I play the somewhat overbearing wife to Oliver’s super nice guy husband. Life meets art? I don’t want to talk about it…but truly, working together is always a joy. We have very different approaches to finding characters and it is always wonderful to appreciate each other’s process. We respect and enjoy each other as actors. Acting as a couple on stage? Well, you know, I get to whack Oliver a couple of times during the show. So far there hasn’t been a day when I’ve wanted to whack him a little harder. But our work tends to stay at work. I don’t think we even ran lines together at home. We run lines on our own, but when we are at home, we are busy taking care of the kids and the dog and running the household. I tend to not run lines with the kids so that when they see the show it’s a surprise for them.

We have been lucky enough to have worked with Michael Shamata many, many times. We have worked with him at Theatre New Brunswick and the Grand Theatre in London when he was Artistic Director in those places as well as other theatres and many times here at Soulpepper. I think this is probably my 15th show with Michael and Oliver has done close to that many with him as well.

Great Expectations

Jeff Lillico & Oliver Dennis. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann.

It’s pretty wonderful coming back to this play 17 years later. It’s such a wonderful story and Michael’s adaptation is so very good – so full of heart. He has really captured the dark and the light of the piece. When we did it at the Grand Theatre, 17 years ago, it was my first show back from having our first child so my memory of it is potent. I loved being back on stage and loved getting to play a mom figure (although hopefully I’m a little softer than Mrs. Joe…). And we had Charlotte there at the theatre with a nanny and being there together as a family is something for which I will always be grateful to Michael. It was a full time. And Kate was there as Miss Havisham and dearly loved Douglas Campbell was part of that production and he drew a sketch of me in costume holding baby Charlotte which we have framed at our house. And we fell in love with the name of Pip. And two years after this first production, had a Pip of our own.

Coming back to the piece 17 years later (as that baby girl is off in Europe with a friend) is an opportunity to deepen and enrich what we found before. And we’ve got almost 18 years of experience of bringing children up now!

This piece is so beautiful in its dark and light. It’s a story of deep love and regret and forgiveness. And Jeff Lillico as Pip is astonishing. Come see it. You will love it.

Artist photo by Sandy Nicholson.

About Soulpepper Theatre Company

Soulpepper, one of Canada's largest urban theatres, is an artist-centred company that celebrates the stories that move us and the artists who tell them. Soulpepper presents vital Canadian interpretations of the classics, and commissions, translates, and develops new work, creating a home for a diverse array of artistic expression across disciplines.

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