Writer: Charles Dickens
Adaptor: Alex Clifton
Director: Kash Arshed
You know you’re in for something a little different when a show opens with That’s Entertainment by The Jam. Now normally this wouldn’t be out of the ordinary, but this particular show is Oliver Twist! It was quite the jolt hearing the mod/punk classic to start off proceedings, but this is A Storyhouse Original Production and they do things a little different!
Based on the classic novel by Charles Dickens the production opens with a young orphan, Oliver, with little memory of who he is, or who his parents are. The boy is being mistreated by workhouse owner Mr Bumble (Matthew Ganley). It is from here that Oliver is sold to the equally loathsome Mr and Mrs Sowerberry (Liz Jadav and Milton Lopes respectively) with the intention of having him work at their funeral parlour.
Following even more harassment, Oliver manages to escape their vile clutches, he soon befriends Dodger (Keshini Misha), who takes Oliver in and introduces his new ‘family’, a band of streetwise child thieves, pickpockets and ‘blaggers’. The group’s adult influences come in the guise of the manipulative Fagin (Cynthia Emeagi) and the menacing Bill Sykes (Ganley in a duel role). The only love and tenderness the group receive is from Nancy (Jessica Jolleys), Sykes’s concubine.
Following a botched theft, Oliver is separated from the group, where a chance meeting with the kindly Mr Brownlow (Adam Speers) and his daughter, Rose (Claire-Marie Seddon) who could hold the key to Oliver finding out who he really is. However, seemingly with the whole of London looking for the boy, will Oliver find his true place in the world?
Obviously, Dickens’ source material is a dreich affair reflecting the brutal reality of Victorian London, however, director Kash Arshed and writer Alex Clifton have created a softer, subtle adaptation, filled with colour and life that is suitable for the whole family. There are still references to the impoverished conditions and horrendous child exploitation of the time, but these play second fiddle to comic set pieces, and song and numbers from the likes of The Smiths, The Jam, and a fantastic version of Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve) by the Buzzcocks.
It’s a bit jarring at first to hear some of these punk/indie anthems but once you get used to it, the songs work fantastically well with the narrative. The cast under the musical direction of Matthew Ganley perform each number with a great deal of energy further adding to this visual spectacle.
As well as the adult performers the rest of the cast come from The Storyhouse’s youth theatre, with the ensemble cast working their socks off throughout and clearly having a ball. In addition, we have a brief but very welcome appearance from Sykes’ dog, Bullseye. Cynthia Emeagi’s Fagin is a particular highlight, sinister, yet charismatic. Whilst Milton Lopes, puts in a show-stealing turn as Mrs Soweberry, even getting the biggest cheer of the night with a well-aimed jab at the recent events at 10 Downing Street!
At times the action can be a little frenetic with the stage seeming tiny when compared to the huge cast, and for my own personal taste I would have like to have seen a bit more menace from Ganley’s Bill Sykes but these are minor quibbles for what is a vibrant, colourful production perfect all the family for this holiday season!
Oliver Twist is at the Storyhouse until the 16th January 2022