Tobacco Factory Theatres brings a fresh perspective on Dickens’ classic
Oliver Twist is a fresh and exciting interpretation of Dickens’ much-loved tale, created specifically for Bristol audiences. It has all the hallmarks of the story that audiences want to see but in new ways. It is at times gripping with nuanced storytelling and forms an entirely novel piece of Christmas theatre.
The show starts off with all the vibes of a gritty Netflix limited series. The Coventry Carol hangs in the air like a visitation from the Ghost of Christmas future. A haunting winter warning.
Oliver’s story is a bleak start in a time of poverty and inequalities. A tense soundtrack is performed by onstage by musician Alex Heane. But, when the cost of living crisis is mentioned in response to food cutbacks, it brings this story bang up-to-date.
Even at this dark starting point there are moments of love. A locket given to Oliver by his mother before she died has been protected and given to him.
It’s captured the loving spirit of Oliver’s parents, a beautiful device bringing magic and love into the show whenever it’s opened.
Just when you’re wondering where the show might be headed it flips the bleak narrative, just like Dorothy landing in Oz.
Adam Peck’s writing creates a strong story in a timeless universe which doesn’t condescend to children. It moves with ease from Dickensian workhouses to thriving East Street bustle with the vibes of south Bristol highrises. It bursts into life, bringing us to a bustling bright Bedminster or Bemmie as it’s colloquially known. Though never ‘Bedmo’ the audience is warned.
The show gently challenges people’s perception on the vast inequalities felt in Bristol. This is particularly centred around the South vs North divide. This might feel a bit blunt for adults, but it’s really important for children to pick up these messages. Hopefully, diverse audiences will make it to the show which at times strongly reflects council estate community. The sense of being seen as ‘riff raff’ when confronted with more affluent people or in more affluent areas of the city is real. All children need to see themselves represented on stage, which is something this production manages to do.
Beverly Rudd gives a big ballsy and energising performance as Fagin, lighting up the stage. She’s fun and brash, but in a split second can turn when threatened.
The other threat in the show comes from Dan Gaisford as Bill. There’s a clear undercurrent of menace simmering in his performance. Thankfully, the production swerves anything that’s going to ruin the family vibes.
Director Heidi Vaughan does have form for creating 11th hour mild peril in children’s shows before carefully resolving them. So if you’re worried you’re heading for a Reservoir Dogs ending, it’s all absolutely fine with mostly happy ever afters. The most stressful moment comes at the end of the first half when something precious is accidentally binned.
Shiquerra Robertson Harris is Nancy as well as Agnes – Oliver’s mum. Her characters gently form some of the protective elements surrounding him in both a worldly and ethereal sense. Matched with Defender Nyanhete’s innocent portrayal of Oliver, they both know the claustrophobic situations they are in are wrong, yet both struggle to extricate themselves from them. They show those who are powerless in their own lives can become victims to the circumstances they find themselves thrown into.
Many roles in the show are played by Tom Fletcher, which also becomes a joke of its own come the end. He’s a strong comic actor who bristles around the stage as a maid with a duster one moment before galloping back seconds later as the exuberant Dodger.
Alice Barclay as Brownlow is the posh Cliftonite counterbalancing the two-cities dynamic of Bristol. But her advocation for Oliver when forces conspire against him and her confident stand off against Bill makes her the hero of the show.
Oliver Twist finishes on a Christmas high. This is not a rags to riches story. It’s about finding family, finding belonging and finding inclusion. As it weaves its way through tense adventure, community heart and relationships, it makes the perfect show to take you through the festive season.
Oliver Twist is on at Tobacco Factory Theatres until 21 January 2024
For more information or to book: https://tobaccofactorytheatres.com/shows/oliver-twist/
Photograpy: Camilla Adams
Cast and Creatives
Oliver Defender Nyanhete
Fagin Beverly Rudd
Dodger, Monks & Martha Tom Fletcher
Bill Sikes & Judge Fang Dan Gaisford
Nancy & Agnes Shiquerra Robertson Harris
Mrs Brownlow & Mrs Sowerberry Alice Barclay
Musician Alex Heane
Director Heidi Vaughan
Writer Adam Peck
Set and Costume Designer Katie Sykes
Composer & Musical Director Seamas Carey
Choreographer Laïla Diallo
Sound Designer Elizabeth Purnell
Lighting Designer Chris Swain
Producer Sian Weeding
Costume Supervisor Sophia Khan
Assistant Director Lydia Cook
Production Manager Ed Borgnis
Stage Manager Anna Booth
Assistant Stage Manager Robyn Small