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Review: Oliver Twist (Leeds Playhouse and tour)

Ramps on the Moon presents an accessible take on the classic Charles Dickens tale

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
The company of Oliver Twist
© Anthony Robling

Leeds Playhouse is an important member of Ramps On The Moon, a consortium of theatres that have joined forces to create and champion work that puts D/deaf and disabled artists and audience members at the heart of major productions.

Returning to the bedraggled industrial streets of Victorian London, where the young orphan boy of the title finds out who he is amongst a gang of pickpockets, Bryony Lavery's adaptation concisely and neatly packages Dickens' masterpiece into a perfect canvas, on which director Amy Leach orchestrates a sharp and inclusivel vision. Lavery's poetic authorial style, which incorporates vivid imagery with a lyrical dash of everyday nuance, translates beautifully into the physical action that unfolds before us. Lavery's words are supercharged and intensified by the presence of constant captioning, which cleverly intermingles with the atmosphere being generated by the performers and scenography to devastating emotional effect.

Indeed, by integrating captioning and British Sign Language into both the scenography and performance style, Leach's vision empowers the ensemble of excellent performers to bring the Dickensian tale of determination, triumph and family to life with a fine attention to detail. Every member of the ensemble (led by Brooklyn Melvin in the titular role) colours their performances with sensitivity and an infectious energy that beautifully binds the company together as they tell the story. Leach has clearly worked in a tireless, astute manner to tease out such an ensemble spirit that brims with fervour and grace in the execution of physical action and conveyance of narrative. It's wonderful to watch these artists execute Lavery's text with a true sense of passion and excitement, which finds its way into the audience and blasts away the cobwebs of the family tale we're all familiar with.

The tale unfolds and takes flight within Hayley Grindle's rendition of a cold, hostile Victorian London, where rust, grime and steel create an otherworldly eeriness that sets the tone of the play-world perfectly. Grindle's costume designs also add an element of industrial vibrance to the proceedings, drawing on Jenny Sealey's dramaturgical research that captures the essence of emerging individuality against the backdrop of a rigid 19th century England.

Joseff Fletcher's cinematic lighting design, which draws on an equally eerie palette of cold blues and harsh whites, helps shift us between the many corners of London that crop up throughout the narrative whilst intensifying the atmosphere and buttressing the performances. John Biddle's sound design continues to add detail to the play-world with a volatile blend of unsettling foley and amplification, which causes the aforementioned otherworldly eeriness to add an exciting texture to the excellently crafted performances.

This really is Oliver Twist as you've never seen it before. Not only is it a fully integrated and accessible production, it's also a harmonious and exciting piece of theatre that breathes new life into Dickens' masterpiece. Packed to the brim with stunning performances and groundbreaking design concepts, it is an unmissable, extraordinary production.

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