Oliver Twist

This is a heartfelt piece of theatre which demonstrates just how far passion and enthusiasm can get you. Livewire return to the Fringe this year with their take on Dickens' Oliver Twist, setting it in post-war Germany. Oliver, a young orphan boy born to an English mother and a Jewish German father, is taken in by Fagin, a brothel madam. Young prostitute Nancy takes him under her wing, and tries to protect him from the machinations of her Nazi-deserter boyfriend, Bill.

The passion of the cast is amazing.

The decision to change the setting of the story led to some interesting re-imaginings of certain characters. Fagin works well as a brothel madam who uses her establishment to hide Jewish women and children, but at a price. She is a genuinely ambiguous figure: you can read her as a hardened hero, saving people in the only way she can, or as a shameless opportunist, using the situation to make money and exploit people. Bill Sykes is rendered slightly more sympathetic by his new status as a soldier who couldn't bear to be a part of what the German army was doing.

Generally, however, I was left wondering what was gained by the new setting. The production is clearly very aware of the emotional weight of talking about Jewish people who died in the camps (there's a section at the end in which the actors each name someone who died), but actually issues of anti-Semitism aren't really addressed during the play. Most of the central characters are now Jewish, but this is only mentioned when it is directly relevant to the plot and it's never really addressed as a new theme. It made me question whether they really earned the right to use that setting.

Some of the staging is very effective. Bits of light physical theatre and some impressive use of lighting allow the large cast to augment the simple set. The only problem is that the staging seems to have been done assuming the show would be performed on a proscenium stage, with all of the audience at the front. In fact, it is performed on a thrust stage, with the result that the audience members sitting at the sides of the stage have their views blocked by the large stepladders that form part of the set and are largely ignored by the cast.

The passion of the cast is amazing. They are all inexperienced actors, but they are extremely well rehearsed and so emotionally involved in the show that several of them were in tears by the end. This emotional investment was mirrored by the audience, a quarter of whom were on their feet to give a standing ovation at the end.

Reviews by Grace Knight

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The Blurb

Livewire celebrate 12 years at the Fringe, returning with their acclaimed production Oliver Twisted. A dark retelling of Dickens’ classic tale of dispossessed innocence. Set in Berlin 1945, a city bombed, blitzed and burnt into ruin. Children swarm like rats. Brothel madams, black marketeers sell anything that moves; anyone that lives. Oliver. Alone. A child of no importance. Who will call his name? ‘An extraordinary company tackle this new adaptation of Dickens’ classic with full-bloodied commitment. Everything in this compelling production fits with the time and place. A fine achievement and inevitably moving’ **** (BritishTheatreGuide.info).