19th June 2017
The Royalty's season finale is an adaptation by Jeremy Brock of Dickens' much loved tale of Oliver Twist.
A challenging play to stage for an amateur stage society - not least because of the association most people will have with the Lionel Bart musical, and the preconceptions that will bring. Fortunately the setting on stage has more in common with recent televised Dickens drama - with their dismal, murky interiors than with the old fashioned Hollywood musical style. Dicken's works are filled with dark settings, and larger than life characters. It's a big ask to find actors for all the parts and the Royalty cast list is 21 strong with many doubling up (I advise buying a programme to keep track of them all).
Just as some of the actors are playing more than one part, so too is the stage - all the scenes are played out on just one set. This is cleverly conceived and manages to serve as the workhouse, the undertakers shop, Fagin's lair, the courthouse and the house in Chertsey, as well as various London Streets. It's a tall order, but it works well, giving the flavour of Dicken's world rather than the actuality, and avoids any cumbersome scenery changes. Lighting is used to great effect - with spotlights highlighting characters and leaving the rest of the stage in darkness where the background scenery would be a distraction. Characters enter from either side, and from the top of two stairways as if from the alleyways of London, the corridors of the Workhouse, and from a set of double doors at the back of the stage for the grand entrances. This creates a sense of space beyond the stage with characters arriving from different directions and on different levels.
These characters are the usual mix of good, bad, ugly and beautiful people from Dicken's imagination. They are in some sense caricatures of humanity and some play this aspect to its fullest - David Armstrong as Monks is a kind of terrifying Ray Whinstone character as he delivers hoarse threats to Fagin, Bill and Mr Bumble, and Billy Towers' Fagin limps and shuffles his way through the play with false camaraderie and obsequious double talking. Bill Sikes, played by Jordan Carling is not the most dislikeable character in the play, he comes across as a hard desperate man but there is a sense of lostness about him which is evident in the short scene after the botched burglary where Bill, recovering from a fever, reveals his dependence on Nancy (Abbi Laidlar). Nancy, in her bright red dress provides a rare splash of colour. It's also indicative of her fate, a bloody death for trying to bring Oliver out of the dark existence that Fagin, Bill and Monks have set for him.
Oliver Twist, of course is the face of real beauty and true innocence and is played by Becky Lindsay - casting a girl as the lead character is another clever move, as it does give Oliver that unusually sweet appearance.
Artful Dodger looks the part in his dapper tails and his top hat poised at such a precariously jaunty angle that I worried he would lose it off at some point. I did wonder if actor Aidan Evans had similar concerns as he lounged rather nonchalantly against scenery, however he displays some pretty fancy footwork in the demonstration of "The Game" to Oliver and his hat stays safely in place!
There is a lot of story to fit into a short time with this play, and at times it is a little disjointed - there are one or two deviations from the book as I remember it (though I admit it is a few years since I read it). The sheer volume of characters and subplots can be a tad befuddling, but credit goes to Thomas Potts as The Narrator who comes in at opportune moments to introduce characters, set scenes, fill gaps and sum up.
This is a challenge to end their season, and they made a fair stab at it. Good fun, a few surprises and plenty of drama.
Oliver Twist runs until Sat 24th June. Curtain up is at 7.30pm each evening and a Saturday matinee at 2.30pm. At just £8 a ticket it is well worth a visit. Tickets are available online or on the door.