Oliver Twist

Italia Conti Ensemble score an absolute triumph with Neil Bartlett's Oliver Twist. They get it right from start to finish and never falter – every component is honed to perfection.

Please Italia Conti, can we have some more?

We are welcomed by the cast milling around the stage, performing everyday tasks and chatting to us in the process. Then it’s lights and action all the way with sound, tunes and carefully choreographed moves, around a robust yet flexible set that shows attention to detail and enables scenes to meld effortlessly.

With casual confidence sustained throughout his role as Dodger, Aaron Price sets the scene before Mr Bumble in his grand robes of office (which fill the stage with both his presence and padded size). Richard Edwards has the pompous gait perfected and a profound manner that dominates the workhouse. He’s enough to keep any boy in fear, while Stephanie Manton as his eventual wife shows sufficient deference to be respectful while clearly remaining the power behind the throne.

Most second year male students probably wouldn’t fit into Oliver’s clothes, so with a stroke of inspirational casting Hannah Traylen carries off the part consummately. While maintaining a level of innocence and naivete befitting the role she also has the presence to carry the show through.

One of the successes of this production lies in performances pitched at the right level, avoiding excess and overstatement and creating characters not caricatures. Dan McCaully and Milly Dunk exemplify this in their restrained and credible portrayal of Mr and Mrs Sowerberry, the undertakers. Meanwhile, Ian Pollington contrasts the generations in his delightfully laddish portrayal of Noah.

Then the emphasis swings to the other protagonists. Forget Lionel Bart’s fun-filled flamboyant Fagin, playing handkerchief games with his boys and kindly giving them all a home. In a masterpiece of characterisation Ryan Hutton reveals the reality of the rotten den and penetrates to the core of this sly, calculating, manipulative bully.

Fagin is a loathsome nasty piece of work; his moments of tenderness are calculating, betrayed by a menacing, creepy voice with graveyard gasps and fingers twitching at the thought of his daily revenues. Yet even he seems to live in fear of the dreaded Bill Sykes. Alister Hawke‘s sublimely understated creation is every bit the East End villain. Dressed in black, his very demeanor is threatening and intimidating. There is no need to raise his voice – a few carefully chosen, softly spoken words can send shivers down the spine.

Nancy knows this only too well, but she too is from the tough side of town and Zöe Grain captures this element in the firmness and conviction she shows in dealing with both Sykes and Fagin. Although bullied in a man’s world, she is far from being spineless. The source of her inner torment and anguish is clearly portrayed, yet she cowers and towers above chattel in terms of moral decency and sense of duty.

Many parts are doubled up and the remaining cast (James Patrick, Rebecca Simpson, Olivia Glynn-Jones and Jacoba Williams) create equally well-crafted characters in their various roles. Credit for the impact of this stunning production must also go to director Simon Naylor, assisted by Samson Hawkins and Caitlin Smith for the choreography and composer Graeme Du Fresne.

Please Italia Conti, can we have some more?

Reviews by Richard Beck

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★★★★
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The Blurb

Italia Conti BA actors present Neil Bartlett's adaptation of the classic tale of Oliver Twist. A dark, dynamic, unmissable production incorporating music.