by Laurence Sach
A new adaptation of Charles Dickens’ ever-popular story of ‘the parish boy’s progress’ – a tale of villainy, hope and a happy ending.
Oliver Twist, brought up as a workhouse orphan, is goaded into asking for more. Expelled from the workhouse, he is apprenticed to an undertaker, but jealousy and bullying force him to make his escape to London where a dark and sinister underworld awaits him.
The friendship of the Artful Dodger, Fagin, Nancy and the gang of young thieves and criminals, puts Oliver at his ease, until mistaken identity sees him brought before the magistrate.
Rescued by the respectable Mr Brownlow, it seems that Oliver’s life is about to change at last, but arch criminal, Bill Sikes, is determined to see his name blackened forever.
A dangerous nighttime break-in, the murder of Nancy, and Sikes’ rooftop bid to escape add to the growing suspense, as Mr Bumble and his overbearing wife unwittingly provide Brownlow with the clue to Oliver’s true identity.
The piece relies strongly on a central ensemble of performers who act as narrators, become children in the workhouse, workhouse guardians, and create street and crowd scenes, as well as playing the range of well known characters from the novel. The only actors who play only one role are those playing Oliver and Fagin. Ages are indicative but should not restrict the inventiveness of casting, neither should gender. A more important consideration is the ability to play the qualities of a character.
Oliver Twist – a young boy, born and brought up in the workhouse. Polite, naive and an innocent despite his upbringing. 10-12 years old.
Mr Bumble, the Beadle – bumptious, the perfect illustration of what a uniform and ‘a little brief authority’ does to a man. Mid 30s+
Mrs Bumble, his domineering wife. If her husband thinks he rules the world outside the home Mrs Bumble knows she rules it inside. Mid 30s+
Mr Sowerberry, the undertaker. Sympathetic and encouraging towards Oliver when he takes him on as an apprentice, but he too is very much under-the-thumb of his wife. 40s+
Mrs Sowerberry, his wife. A sour, humourless individual who has little good to say to either her husband or to Oliver. She clearly has a superiority complex. 40s+
Noah Claypole, the undertaker’s apprentice. A charity boy and a coward who is happy to bully Oliver because he is smaller. He is jealous of Oliver because of Sowerberry’s favouritism towards him. Late teens/early 20s
Charlotte, slatternly scullery maid at the Sowerberry’s and sweet on Noah. Shows little sympathy towards Oliver. Late teens/early 20s
The Artful Dodger, a leading member of Fagin’s gang. Confident, cocky, and thoroughly enjoying life as pickpocket and apprentice thief. A few years older than Oliver.
Fagin, fence and trainer of the gang of child thieves. Devious, resourceful, and never-to-be-trusted. Saving his own neck always comes first, although he has drawn the gang of children around him through a certain sense of generosity and paternalism. 40s+
Bill Sykes, master criminal. Will turn violent when required for self-preservation, or when his anger is out of control. Not someone you would want to spend Christmas with. Mid 30s
Nancy, Sikes’ woman. Although drawn into criminality by Fagin she has a heart-of-gold. Her moral judgement is not entirely impaired, and she shows a level of maternal concern for Fagin’s boys. Late 20s/Mid 30s
Mr Brownlow, wealthy, middle-class and saviour of Oliver. He is genuinely a ‘good man’ who shows concern for and belief in Oliver. Late 40s+
Fang, a magistrate. Insensitive, bullying, testy, impatient and would rather hang someone than miss his dinner. Not someone you would ever want to come up in front of. 40s+
Mrs Bedwin, Mr Brownlow’s house-keeper. A gentle, caring and loving individual. Her belief in Oliver never wains. 40s+
Mr Grimwig, friend of Mr Brownlow. As Brownlow says of him, “He is a little rough in his manners, but he is a most worthy creature at heart.” [Played as Mrs Grimwig in the first production of this adaptation]. 40s+
Bullseye, Sikes’ dog. A stocky, Staffordshire Terrier-type beast that is probably best cast as a puppet.
Approximately 95 minutes
Preview available here
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