As proven by the recent Roman Polanski film adaptation of Oliver Twist it is commonplace to offer an audience Charles Dickens' original text without adding anything new stylistically. Thankfully, the Library theatre is providing theatre-goers with something very special this festive season rather than a pedestrian retread.
This Victorian tale of poverty, vice and pick-pocketing involving a young orphan called Oliver is so familiar that you could deliver without really trying. As long as the classic lines remain and an adorable little boy is cast as the lead, who would complain? Directors Roger Haines and Liam Steele confound expectations by breaking the rules. They include all of the classic scenes but without simply copying what has gone before. Michael Pavelka's stunning book-strewn set contains nooks and crannies for cast members to climb in and out of like urchins. Richard Taylor's sardonic musical interludes feature black humour which helps drive the narrative forward.
The entire cast gives flawless performances. Peter Macqueen's Fagin is full of hidden, subtle touches and he refuses to overact or recycle other actors' interpretations. Tom Lawrence plays the Artful Dodger with real charm, and gives the audience an everyman to identify with. Ella Vale plays Nancy with real depth portraying the character’s vulnerability. Adam Price alternates from the beastly Mr Bumble to the funny Mr Grimwig seamlessly. Stephen Finegold imbues Bill Sykes with a real sense of self destruction. In complete contrast, Daniel Shaw's Oliver is the innocent amongst the desperate, tragic figures.
Oliver Fenwick's evocative lighting gives this piece a real edgy feel. This compliments Neil Bartlett's unique take on Dickens' classic. His writing is clever, authentic and although the essence of the original piece remains, he is not afraid to take risks. In fact at times his Twist becomes a fast paced thriller rather than a school party crowd pleaser.
The inventive use of puppetry, trap doors and dance-style movements mean that the audience is constantly entertained and never left looking at their watch. The effect is ingenious.
Rather than thinking "What the Dickens" is going on you are left wanting some more as this production is dark, stunning and full of hidden depths- in other words one of the best pieces of theatre that the Library has produced.