Great Expectations for Paula Wilcox in Havisham role

SHE’S playing one of Charles Dickens’ most famous creations in what was recently voted the most popular of his stories – and she gets to wear a couture frock while she’s at it.

Actress Paula Wilcox, who made her name as Chrissy in the 1970s TV sitcom Man About The House, opposite Richard O’Sullivan, has concentrated on theatre for most of her career and she’s enthralled at the prospect of playing Miss Havisham in Great Expectations.

“I know the book really well as I studied it at school and I’m a big fan of Dickens,” she enthuses.

WHAT THE DICKENS! – Paula Wilcox is enthralled to be playing Miss Havisham
WHAT THE DICKENS! – Paula Wilcox is enthralled to be playing Miss Havisham

Rated the most popular Dickens story of all time in a poll by The Guardian newspaper, Paula admits this version, by Jo Clifford, was an especially enticing proposition.

“When I got the script it was a bit of an eye-opener,” she explains.

I’m always led by the script and this is a wonderful adaptation – very succinct but it doesn’t feel at all rushed.

“It’s told in a very leisurely way but with nothing wasted. You’re always being moved on to another set of characters and another bit of story. As soon as I read it I knew I wanted to be involved and that it could be magical.”

And with 2012 marking his bicentenary, Paula can see why Dickens has endured.

She says: “He was a complicated character himself but he wrote great stories and his characters, even the most straightforward ones, all have back stories. And of course he had this massive social conscience.”

As for Miss Havisham, Paula confesses to being intrigued by the woman who, having been jilted at the altar, hides herself away, remaining dressed in her wedding finery from that day forwards.

“People do shut themselves away emotionally, but when you think of someone closing themself off physically like that, it is extraordinary,” she says.

“I’m interested in this whole thing of someone literally stopping the clocks and not wanting to hear anything about anything. There is also the lure of a rather special costume.

Designed by Giovanni Bedin for the House of Worth (Charles Frederick Worth, who created the first couture house – a contemporary of Dickens) Miss Havisham’s wedding dress isgoing to be a truly unique creation.

“All I know is that it’s going to be spectacularly ‘out there’ and it’s going to be impressionistic,” says Paula.

Her latest role is just one of a succession of successes for Paula who was plucked from the ranks of the National Youth Theatre for her first big break on TV in 1970 to play opposite Richard Beckinsale in The Lovers.

She’s since appeared in everything from the Benny Hill Show to The Smoking Room, Only Fools and Horses spin-off Green Green Grass and, more recently, as Hilary Potts in Emmerdale.And she still remembers clearly the day she caught the acting bug.

“I’d have been about 13 and I went with the school to Manchester’s Library Theatre to see Henry lV Part One,” she recalls. “We were studying the play and it was amazing that those words could be transformed by the actors.

“They became believable characters, and the lines they spoke just sounded so natural – I was blown away.”

Paula says: “I’ve never played Woking before but I hear that it’s a lovely theatre, so I’m looking forward to my first time there.

“This production is very family friendly so I hope lots of kids will come to see it.

“It’s a wonderful story and there’s not a child alive who doesn’t identify with Pip and who isn’t frightened by Magwitch and this woman who lives among rat-infested cakes and who has her veil chewed by mice. It’s going to be an extravagant and theatrical experience.”

Great Expectations will be at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking, from Tuesday, September 18 until Saturday, September 22 with a 15-strong cast, including Jack Ellis (evil screw Jim Fenner in TVs Bad Girls) and Chris Ellison (Frank Burnside in The Bill).

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About the Author: Barry Rutter