first night

Oliver Twist

Harry Twining enters the Victorian underworld with Front Room Productions' new immersive show.

It is no small feat to convincingly condense a Dickens classic into a promenade piece of less than an hour long, whilst retaining the charm and emotional pull of the original. Therefore, it's a huge joy to see this task pulled off with great skill in Olivia Races adaptation of Oliver Twist.

Climbing the cold stone staircase from the back entrance, the audiences first encounter with the protagonist draws them immediately into a brutal world, where an obviously frightened boy is passed by without a thought. The boy in question is portrayed faultlessly by Jenny Walser. She is so believable in the role of the fearful yet endlessly optimistic orphan Oliver, one would be forgiven for forgetting she is not indeed the little boy. In short, Walser is perfectly cast in the role, from her believable body language to to the effortless expression of her face. Another highly successful casting choice is that of Elle Morgan-Williams as The Artful Dodger. She pulls of the charismatic characters boundless energy with great aplomb, managing an assuring strut despite her having nothing but dirty rags and Dodgers signature top hat, as well as sharing a highly entertaining chemistry with both Walser and Michael Yates as Fagin.

Yatess portrayal was impressive in that it did not take excessive inspiration from the many interpretations by others who had taken the role. Without falling into any of the stereotypes of the character, Yates gave a refreshing portrayal of the sleazy and manipulative criminal, his oh-so-innocent face almost convincing the audience of decency, yet with subtle body language showing his true intentions.

Subtlety also worked well for Tristan Robinsons depiction of Bill Sikes. Robinson truly made Sikes a character who only needed to give a look or a few very well delivered words to send chills down ones spine, which made it all the more shockingly effective when he did lose his temper. This aggression paired very nicely with Sarah Slimanis Nancy, with her fierce retaliation in the face of Sikes and Fagins manipulation. Slimani showed great range, also making the audience truly pity her situation, from withering resignation to hopeless pleading, yet a clear affection and warmth for Oliver.

It is perhaps the faultless immersion of this adaptation which make it the most enjoyable, only improved by the intimacy of such as small audience. One moment, they are amongst the vegetable stalls of the market, being accosted by enthusiastic greengrocers, the next the audience is sitting in Fagins lair, listening to the criminals plotting. This merited highly professional interaction, causing both hilarity at some points and a solemn silence at others. The fantastic choice of the market really helped this world come alive, with the characters seamlessly guiding the audience through without this ever feeling unnatural or artificial.

Yet what really transformed this production from good to great was the use of music during and between scenes, as performed by a highly skilled live band. Rob Collins composition would not have felt out of place in a film adaptation, and provided a very effective background, rising and falling appropriately with the themes and tensions of the performance. This effect genuinely gave me chills on more than one occasion. Although the music tended at some points to overpower the speech, the strength of the acting made this only a slight issue, as the meaning and emotion was so clearly put across. I was particularly impressed with the speed and efficiency with which the band themselves moved between the scenes, never distracting the audience from the action.

Front Room Productions Oliver Twist is certainly the most unique piece of theatre that I have seen this year at Durham, as well as one of the most professional and outright touching. It is a testament to how much can be done with theatre. I can promise anyone who goes to see it will leave the Indoor Market, like me, wanting more. 

30 April 2016

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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