Producing a low-budget, five-person-cast production of a Dickens classic in parallel to a massive West End show is a little bit like commercial suicide. It’s like doing a remake of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings using clay and in stop-motion animation. I was skeptical. Surprisingly though, to draw the analogy out further, the clay version is a hundred times better and makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside because nobody else knows about it.
Abigail Anderson’s production is on at the Riverside Studios: a small, indie-chic establishment with a Polish theme, located among council estates and sidewalk-less roads. The set is small, the chairs are uncomfortable, but by the end of the two-hour production, none of this matters. Oliver Twist is exciting, engaging and incredibly, incredibly creative.
There is a certain sub-culture among actors, where it is fashionable to turn their noses up at cinema and put theatre on a golden pedestal as the one and only true form of the acting craft. While these people tend to preach this philosophy from a tall equine (and usually wearing a monocle), their point is so easy to see by the time the curtain drops.
Each of the actors has several parts to play. Although the changes are facilitated with subtle but memorable changes to costume (a neck tie or apron), there is little need. Preston Clare’s Fagin and Grimwig are memorable and powerful. Ellie Turner, in an interesting directorial decision, plays both the titular boy and the haunting ghost of his mother. Cary Crankson brings Dodger to life with the utmost cockney charm and swagger, then shrivels into the pathetic Mr Monks. Lucia McAnespie and Simon Yadoo are incredible comic talents, also delivering one of the most disturbing, powerful dramatic scenes together.
While the talents of the actors and the obvious time and effort invested into the production are the most striking aspect of the show, due must be given by the simple genius of the set designers. Lighting, costumes, props and sounds are used to not only imitate a situation, but actually create it right before your eyes. Careful planning (and probably a lot of trial and error) will make you believe that a cane is a shotgun; a box is London Bridge.
Mr Dickens’ novel will persevere through the generations; its cultural references lost to the pages of history and its socio-political message taken out of context, modernised and interpreted into oblivion. For Love & Madness’s version of it is only one interpretation, which will inevitably mess with the story’s vision for anyone who has read the classic. However, disregarding the original source material, this is an exemplary production, encompassing everything theatre and acting is all about. One hundred per cent worth the journey and admission price for anyone with the slightest interest in the arts, literature, or fun outside the box.
Oliver Twist is showing until Sunday 22 March
Box Office: 020 8237 1111
Images courtesy of Luke Varley