A jolly Oliver twist

2011-07-01 12:26

Of all the childhood classics, Oliver Twist has to be one of the most depressing. Poverty, starvation, misfortune, child-trading, slavery, an enforced life of crime, wife beatings, murder, fraud, lies, deception – they’re all in there. In fact, I don’t think that there was a wicked deed that escaped this Dickensian tragedy.

So I was always a bit puzzled as to how, some 130 years later, Lionel Bart transformed the dark and twisty Oliver Twist into Oliver!?– a rollicking musical with a score that is for the most part just so, well, jolly. But he did, and it worked.

What works even better, however, is that clever Joyce Levinsohn at the National Children’s Theatre has squished Oliver down into a perfect pocket-sized hour-long show that – while dark at moments – is entirely suitable for children.

As always, the set is incredible and the cast are lively and enthusiastic – you would never have known that at 10.30am they were already on their second show of the day.

Drummond Marais is just the right amount of light and dark as Fagin, Nicholas Nkuna makes a perfectly terrifying Bill Sykes, you couldn’t help but want to be Nancy’s (Jodie Renouf) best friend and little Emma Rogers is so cute and innocent as Oliver.

But it is Matt Counihan’s Artful Dodger – the ultimate cheeky chappie – that captured my four-year-old son’s heart and for hours afterwards I had to listen to him attempting to talk Cockney. Um, thanks Guv’ner.

There is something that children find so compelling about watching other children on stage and the audience – packed to the rafters with school kids – was totally engaged right from the first note of Food Glorious Food.

But for me, who thinks about these things too much, Oliver Twist will always be a sad, sad story whose themes are all still so shockingly relevant today.

» A Pocket Oliver Twist is at the National Children’s Theatre, 3?Junction Avenue, Parktown, until July 23. 011 484 1584/5 to book.

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