Bryony Lavery, based on the novel by Charles Dickens
Leeds Playhouse in association with Ramps On The Moon
Leeds Playhouse online
October 25-Nov 20; 2hr
Frustratingly, the original production of Oliver Twist was cancelled mid-run last year due to the first lockdown, but here is another chance to join Oliver, Fagin, Dodger and the gang thanks to a specially-filmed version of Bryony Lavery’s vividly rethought, tough and lively adaptation.
It’s a co-production between the Playhouse and Ramps On The Moon, a pioneering initiative from a consortium of seven theatres that have joined forces to create work that puts D/deaf and disabled artists at the heart of major productions. Here, by integrating captioning and British Sign Language into the performance style, director Amy Leach and a powerful ensemble bring a unique take on Dickens’ tale of cruelty and redemption.
As our main image shows, it’s a large company. Deaf and disabled performers are integrated with non-disabled artists and the overall aim is to make the show as accessible as possible. The sign language, audio description and captioning are not add-ons but part of the whole mix, functional and artistic. It’s a technically complex concept and quite brilliantly realised.
The Playhouse has been scrupulous in warning that this is not Lionel Bart’s cheeky chappie musical, in fact Lavery’s adaptation is dark and brooding and, with Leach, it has put a whole new slant on the novel. Some of the characters are not only played by deaf actors, but are also actually deaf in the story, including Oliver himself (Brooklyn Melvyn). His role as a deaf mute at children’s funerals thus takes on new depths, and his isolation and maltreatment in the workhouse and throughout is heightened by his deafness.
Benjamin Wilson as Mr Bumble and Steph Lacey as Mrs Thingummy are suitably both comic and cruel. Stephen Collins’ Sykes is menacingly physical, and look out for a very effective puppet as Sykes’ dog, Bullseye. Claire-Louise English’s Nancy, Caroline Parker’s Fagin and Nadeem Islam’s Artful Dodger are all outstanding.
Hayley Grindle's set is a multifunctional platform structure set against a winter landscape with the screen for the captions very much centre-stage. The production grips throughout, visually and aurally, with an atmospheric orchestral score from Oliver Vibrans, painting interludes between scenes and underlining the action – which ultimately proves to be not just a tale from the past, but one that is unfortunately all too relevant to today.
More info and tickets here