Charles Dickens, adapted by Debbie Oates
The Dukes Theatre
Williamson Park, Lancaster
Heavy gray clouds overhead threatening rain, the first drops came as we met the Artful Dodger and Fagin’s Gang at the foot of the Ashton Memorial. Dodger, Josie Cerise, was perky, lively, cheerful, artful and kept up a high-powered performance from start to the end.
The pompous and full-bodied Bumble the beadle enters to be mocked and jostled by the gang but, once they have had their fun at the expense of Bumble’s dignity, they leave and Bumble offers the young Oliver Twist, Jerome Thompson, up for sale to the nauseating Mrs Sowerberry. After ill treatment by Mrs S and her bullying servant Claypole, Oliver is rescued by Dodger and the gang and takes off with the gang to their lair in the woods. And the rain came down.
We followed the gang into the shelter of the woods to meet with Fagin, Nancy and the brutal Bill Sykes. Bill discovers Oliver and instructs Fagin to get him trained—and quick. Oliver is not street—or woods—wise like Dodger and the gang and is soon caught when the gang ‘play a game’ with the wealthy Mr Brownlow. In court, the magistrate, Mr Fang, delightfully played by Victoria Brazier (she is also Nancy and Noah Claypole), clearly shows the lazy application of the law. Guilty, whether he is guilty or not, Mr Brownlow intervenes and takes Oliver home.
A much restored Oliver is sent out, as a test, by Mr Brownlow. Unfortunately, the house is being watched by Fagin and the gang, Oliver is apprehended and forced back into the clutches of Fagin and Bill Sykes.
The story moves rapidly on and the gang is apprehended—it looks like someone had tipped off the police—and the next scene is in the gaol where Fagin, Oliver, Dodger and the not-very-bright Charley Bates are in chains awaiting sentence from the magistrate, who reveals that there had been a set-up. Fagin is soon sent down, as are Oliver, Dodger and Charley.
The final scene, down at the docks. Fagin is sent off to the prison islands, Oliver is saved from deportation by Mr Brownlow—and Dodger escapes.
A thoroughly enjoyable production, plenty of pace and humour, the two puppet animals Charley’s Red and Bill Syke’s dog Bullseye are wonderful—Bullseye is truly frightening. The heavy rain and gloom added to the depressing feel as the course of justice ground remorselessly on. On the night before the budget and the government’s policy of demonization of the poor, I was left wondering if there were still good-hearted and determined people left to take on Mr Brownlow’s truly philanthropic role.
Lancaster thoughts: on the way from the station I observed a busker playing a penny whistle outside a branch of Lush; only a few people about, he had a puppet Gollum at his side. Unusually, I was rather late, picked up our tickets for the production and headed to the stage for the opening scene and found we were entering centre stage, much to our and the audience’s confusion. Oh dear.
Don’t miss this excellent production.
Reviewer: Denis W McGeary