In this questionable adaptation of Oliver Twist, one can't help but wonder why any attempt was made at re-contextualising an already beloved tale - little is gained by the tonally confused, electronic-scored, Bristol located, juvenile translation, and yet so much is lost.
Adapting a well known text on stage is always a challenging task - even more so when that tale has an already established stage adaptation that is not only strong, but one of the most beloved musicals of all time. It's a tall order to achieve, and in many ways dooms Tobacco Factory Theatres' production of Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist from the outset, drawing comparisons to Lionel Bart's masterpiece that, arguably warranted no more re-adaptations. That being said there is room for strong re adaptations; to take a festive example, having seen four adaptations of A Christmas Carol this year, all have shone with their own merits and proven their own existence as a worthy endeavor. Sadly, Adam Peck's adaptation fails to present any memorable or defining qualities, beyond an arbitrary location move to Bristol that achieves nothing aside from shoehorned references, and a 'musical' score (barely four songs in its entirety) that ought to have been left on the chopping floor.
Perhaps the most baffling quality of Oliver Twist is its confusing tone, no better demonstrated by the large audience of a younger demographic who, having giggled at moments of clownish slapstick, were confronted with aggressive scenes of gun violence - quite the strange pairing for a show that advertises itself as a a show with a 'belly full of cheer'. That's not to say the intensity wasn't appreciated; on the contrary, the show was at its strongest when it depicted a gritty Bristolian gang-land retelling of the Victorian tale, something I was left wanting an entire show of. In some ways, it reminded me of the wonderful intensity frequently achieved by the Royal Exchange Theatre in their productions, which would be fantastic if this was not simultaneously aiming to be a festive family treat.
The same success cannot be said, however, for the attempted humour which landed on the side of eye-rolling embarrassment rather than inciting any laughter. The biggest laughs were had not at witty writing, or precise slapstick, but clumsily inserted local references delivered with all the finesse of Peter Kay's 'who remembers' schtick. The show would find far more success if it picked a side: both a gritty modern day retelling or a cheesy children's adaptation would work perfectly well, but simultaneously creates a total tonal whiplash.
The same confusion can be found in other elements of the show; the costumes for the Artful Dodger and Fagin indicate a christmassy pantomime style, meanwhile Oliver and Nancy sport naturalistic modern clothing. Equally can be said of the performances - scenes of sincerity were interrupted by the painfully clownish interpretations of Fagin and Dodger, and the music fit neither the gritty origins of the story, nor the festive aesthetics of the production. Again, each of these components would work fine enough isolated, but when mixed together work less so in tandem and instead on a collision course for directorial confusion. There are several elements to compliment however, most of all being the lighting design. Faced with a barren stage with no set, the lighting design by Chris Swain - while not spectacular - worked to create a sense of place and setting, crafting variety and intrigue to fill the brief, yet long feeling run time of 2 hours 15 minutes.
AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Camilla Adams