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A CurtainUp Review
Bartlett's production is full of new and original references. The posters advertising the sale of Oliver to Sowerberry's, the firm of Funeral Directors look like the posters advertising slave auctions and we are reminded of how close to slavery existence was for these orphan boys from the workhouse. Michael Feast's mysterious, wild eyed Fagin is a character more inspired by the Russian mad monk Rasputin than Jewish.
Owen Sharpe is the Artful Dodger, his Mohican haircut looking totally in place in Dickensian London, narrates much of the action. His setting of the scene, always in character as the charming criminal, amuses and involves.
In the middle of all these darkly colourful and over the top characters is the figure of the innocent child, a blonde, quivering, helpless Oliver (Jordan Metcalfe), his predicament as deeply moving as anything I have seen on the stage for some time. It is this contrast between the contrived and the natural which lifts this production out of the ordinary. We are frightened for him being made to sleep with the coffins in the Sowerberry's, we feel his exhaustion as he walks to London, the director choosing to knock him down again and again as the narrator describes this journey where he walked for seven days until he was weak from exhaustion and his feet were bleeding. And just as he seems to have fallen on good times in the home of the benevolent Mr Brownlow (Thomas Wheatley) he is snatched back into the danger of Fagin's world.
The horrific murder of Nancy is not recreated in full but a simple tableau shows Bill's raised arm above Nancy's lifeless body. Sikes' torso falls through a trap door in the flies as we hear a description of how he hangs himself by accident while trying to escape. Bartlett underlines the power hierarchy of the underworld -- Fagin bullies the boys, while at the top of the heap, Bill Sikes intimidates Fagin.
The music is largely unaccompanied and in contrast to the Lionel Bart musical, the tunes are rough and difficult and atonal although we are told that these come from Victorian music hall. An out of tune violin and a tinny hurdy gurdy are all that is allowed in this play where poverty pervades, stifling any musical celebration. In Fagin's kitchen, the result is a cacophony as Fagin runs his enthusiastic class in the "game" of picking pockets.
Throughout this production, is a picture of London. Dodger repeats the place names which still exist in a litany of journeying like Pinter. "Chertsey - Bethnal Green, Finsbury Square, Smithfield, Holborn, Hyde Park Corner, Kensington, Hammersmith, Chiswick, Kew Bridge, Brentford, Shepperton, Chertsey." The play finishes as it began with a reference to childhood. "It is a solemn thing to hear, in a darkened room, the voice of a child".
Mendes at the Donmar
Peter Ackroyd's History of London: The Biography
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
At This Theater
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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