The Bleak Expectations of Mark Evans interview

A scene from the Bleak Expectations stage show at the Watermill Theatre in June 2022. Copyright: Pamela Raith

With a brand new stage adaptation of the hit radio series Bleak Expectations currently enjoying its debut production, we chat to creator and writer Mark Evans about the show.

Hi Mark! You must be chuffed with the overwhelmingly positive reception to the show thus far?

Mark Evans

Hello! And yes, delighted that both critics and audiences seem to be enjoying it - if only more people were coming to see it, though. Not selling as well as we might... which feels odd given the positive press coverage. Come on, people: go and see it!

Will it appeal equally to newcomers and existing Bleak fans? Hopefully there's enough for the latter to get lots out of it - what can they expect?

That's always a tricky one, I think. The short answer is yes.

By which I mean that I don't think you need to know the radio show to enjoy the stage version: it's just two hours of Victorian ridiculousness that can be enjoyed by anyone. Equally, I hope and think fans of the radio show will enjoy it, despite there being changes from what the original story was. For example, I've missed out whole chunks of the first series and folded in some aspects of the second to create something that's the same, but different. And all still with the same style.

There's only one bit that might mildly baffle newcomers to the show, and that's Harry Biscuit's obsession with swans. It was quite a big, ongoing part of his character on the radio and online fan demand meant it really had to go in the stage version! I think that it's well introduced in the play, so it doesn't stand out... but the first reference might get a big fan-laugh and leave others thinking 'he just said 'swan'. Why is that funny?' But they'll soon agree... I hope!

Bleak Expectations. Image shows from L to R: Pippa Bin (Susy Kane), Hardthrasher (Geoffrey Whitehead), Aunt Lily (Celia Imrie), Young Pip (Tom Allen), Mr Gently Benevolent (Anthony Head), Sir Philip Bin (Richard Johnson), Harry Biscuit (James Bachman). Copyright: BBC

How did the play come about; is it your first? Was this your lockdown project?

It's certainly my first professional play. And it wasn't a lockdown project, because it's actually been bubbling away for a long time. In fact, it wasn't long after the first radio series was broadcast that I thought 'well if people laugh at the recordings in the BBC Radio Theatre, maybe they'd laugh at a play version in an actual theatre...' And then one of my oldest friends, David Wolstencroft - who created Spooks amongst many other great things - took me for lunch one day and said 'you know what, I think Bleak would make a great theatre show...' With me bouncing up and down saying 'I was thinking that too!' we shook hands on a deal that we would work together to make that happen. It took me a long while to get round to writing a stage version - things got busy and I was sort of waiting for all five radio series to be finished first - and then we began looking around for production partners. A couple of readthroughs, some rewrites, various negotiations with theatres and a mere fourteen years or so later, it's actually happened - thanks to the Watermill Theatre and Anthology Theatre.

Now all I need to do is return the favour to David by producing Spooks! The Musical for him. 'We're coming alive... at MI5... eating pies and being spies...' It's a global mega-hit in waiting...

A scene from the Bleak Expectations stage show at the Watermill Theatre in June 2022. Copyright: Pamela Raith

Did you consider trying to reunite the (surviving) original cast for the show, or was it clear from the start you'd need a new gang?

They're all too darn successful now to work with me!

I would have loved to have got the gang back together, but they really are all terribly successful and busy these days or live in LA or both. Plus, this is a new iteration of the show so a new cast makes sense.

And it has been lovely to see different versions of characters I already knew rather well. Turns out we found a truly brilliant group of nine actors, all of whom are excellent and funny... not unlike the original radio cast!

At what point did you team up with the Watermill?

Well, the original team-up was with David Wolstencroft as mentioned earlier; then he found and teamed up with the excellent Anthology Theatre as co-producers; and then after discussions with various theatres we all agreed that The Watermill would be a brilliant place to do the show.

A scene from the Bleak Expectations stage show at the Watermill Theatre in June 2022. Copyright: Pamela Raith

We originally had a slot with them for early 2021... but that rather irritating pandemic put paid to that. Luckily we're now there in slightly less virus-y times - and hopefully the show is the fun, silly, joke-filled night out we all need after two or so years of Covid.

Can fans further afield look forward to seeing the show? A London residency or national tour, perhaps?

I hope they can. We certainly don't want the show to simply stop after the run at The Watermill. And we do have plans and ambitions for it. Who knows what the future of the show might be? Somewhere between never-seen-again and bestriding-the-globe-like-an-international-comedy-colossus, perhaps... though hopefully nearer the latter end of the spectrum than the former! First show on Mars? Come on, Elon Musk, make me an offer...

A scene from the Bleak Expectations stage show at the Watermill Theatre in June 2022. Copyright: Pamela Raith

Radio, stage, novel - what's next for Bleak Expectations? Will you progress with any more novels or plays adapted from the later series? Might there be other avenues of your delightfully silly Victorian world?

A film, perhaps? Or an opera? An expressive dance piece? Two thousand linked haikus? Or would that mean I'm milking the Victorian silliness cow just a little too much?

I think I'll just wait and see what happens... or what ideas I might have. There's certainly more 19th Century nonsense to be written, if you ask me.

Are you working on anything else at the moment?

I always have a few things on the go... I'm actually writing a drama for Channel 4 at the moment, which is rather different. Not many jokes; a lot more crime; though possibly the same levels of cruelty as Bleak Expectations - only in a non-Victorian way! It's not my idea, but it's a lot of fun... though also a lot of hard work.

Back to comedy next though, I think. I've got a sitcom pilot script to rewrite and some ideas bubbling away that I either want to pitch or write up. We shall see what happens...

Thanks for the interview! Fun as ever to be involved with the excellent British Comedy Guide!


Bleak Expectations ran at the Watermill Theatre, Newbury, from 27th May to 2nd July 2022.

Bleak Expectations - The Novel

You think you know the entire story of Bleak Expectations but look! Now it's also a big, fat, juicy book. Like the radio series, but with added jokes, extra bits of story, additional dimensions to characters and masses more paper. Unless you're reading it as an e-book in which case ...masses more digital information bits.

Bleak Expectations recounts the remarkable adventures of young Pip Bin as he tries to repair his destroyed family and distinctly damaged life, aided by his best friend Harry Biscuit and definitely not aided by his cruel and ironically named guardian Mr Gently Benevolent and his accomplices, the fearsome Hardthrasher siblings. Grim circumstances, mistaken identities, unlikely inheritances,nightmarish court cases, ridiculous names, convenient coincidences to resolve plot problems, over-sentimental death scenes and lots and lots of adjectives: Bleak Expectations is the novel Charles Dickens might have written after drinking far too much gin.

Brand new novelisation of the first series of Radio 4 hit sitcom and Dickensian pastiche Bleak Expectations, by Mark Evans.

First published: Thursday 15th November 2012

Not in the UK?

Fear not! Many items can still be ordered. Amazon in the UK delivers to many international territories, whilst their Australia, USA and Canada stores also supply many equivalent or imported items.

If you are in the North America, look out for US/Canadian flag icons on popular product listings for direct links.

If you order from a UK store, please note that the UK is in Region 2 and B, respectively, for DVDs and Blu-rays - check your player's compatibility, or look for multi-region products if you are located in another region.

If you are in Australia or New Zealand (DVD Region 4), note that almost all DVDs distributed in the UK by the BBC and 2entertain are encoded for both Region 2 and Region 4. The UK and Australasia are in the same Blu-ray region (B).

Bleak Expectations - The Complete Series 1-5

The complete collected Series 1-5 of the gloriously daft Victorian romp Bleak Expectations.

Gasp at the evil Mr Gently Benevolent, played by Mr Anthony Head! Weep at the trials of our young hero, Pip Bin, played by Master Tom Allen! Be moved to joy and sorrow by the remarkable narration of Mr Richard Johnson! Swoon at the fragile beauty of Pip's poor mama, played by Miss Celia Imrie! Wonder at the thespian prowess of Mr Geoffrey Whitehead as six different siblings! Follow the remarkable adventures of young Pip Bin as he struggles to rescue himself and his sisters from the schemes of his evil and badly named guardian, Mr Gently Benevolent, and the blood-curdling Hardthrasher family.

Immerse yourself in a timeless epic featuring terrifying schools, even worse prisons, opium dens, disguises, court cases, shipwrecks, underwater squirrels and swashbuckling long-lost aunts. Revel in the many fine quips, characters and scenarios written by Mr Mark Evans and produced by Mr Gareth Edwards, previously renowned for their craftsmanship on the works of Messrs Mitchell & Webb.

First released: Monday 3rd July 2017

Not in the UK?

Fear not! Many items can still be ordered. Amazon in the UK delivers to many international territories, whilst their Australia, USA and Canada stores also supply many equivalent or imported items.

If you are in the North America, look out for US/Canadian flag icons on popular product listings for direct links.

If you order from a UK store, please note that the UK is in Region 2 and B, respectively, for DVDs and Blu-rays - check your player's compatibility, or look for multi-region products if you are located in another region.

If you are in Australia or New Zealand (DVD Region 4), note that almost all DVDs distributed in the UK by the BBC and 2entertain are encoded for both Region 2 and Region 4. The UK and Australasia are in the same Blu-ray region (B).

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