Victorian London goes slightly Steampunk in this adaptation of the multi-award winning musical, marking 11 years of the Playhouse’s creative learning programme STAGE EXPERIENCE. A cast comprised of enthusiastic young people from across Scotland added youthful vitality to the performance and ensured that the audience ‘considered themselves at home’.

Everyone knows the story of Oliver Twist, the unfortunate orphan who ends up with a gang of petty thieves after cruel stints in a workhouse followed by a job in an undertaker’s parlour… before getting rescued by kindly ‘Mr. Brownlow’. With ‘Oliver Twist’, author Charles Dickens created one of the most memorable characters of his career – a timeless classic still read today and adapted for stage and screen numerous times!

Francis Gallop’s smart set design (with the additional aid of Big House Design Company) ensured that Oliver’s world was vividly brought to life, but it is costume designer Kate Hamilton whose inspired and unusual garbs give this production a certain visual pizazz. Fagin’s gang of pick-pockets – otherwise little more than raggedy Victorian street urchins – all got to wear caps and heads decorated with Steampunk goggles and similar adornments, especially ‘Artful Dodger’s’ top hat was a study in Steampunk design. In an even bolder move, cruel poorhouse bully ‘Mr. Bumble’ (here played by Connor Dickson) was transformed into an 18th century Regency-style fop complete with pinstripe suit, and a ‘Paris Beau’ style top hat more suited to the world of dandy Beau Brummell than a 19th century Victorian parish beadle. Hell, even ‘Widow Corney’ could be spotted wearing trippy psychedelic sunshades during Scene 1 and 2!

It goes without saying that some of the young cast were not only faced with the challenge of performing the songs to satisfactory standards but with the additional challenge of bringing a certain age across. Some of the characters in Oliver! such as Fagin, Bill Sykes, Mr. Brownlows and indeed Mr. Bumble all are of a certain age, for example, Fagin is usually depicted as a man in his 50’s if not more, burly villain Bill Sykes is in his early 40’s if not older, and so on.
How to bring that aura of ‘life experience and pathos’ across when you’re only in your early 20’s? Of course you can’t, but Aaron Kavanagh’s ‘Fagin’ – although the contemplative number ‘Reviewing the Situation’ was perhaps delivered a little too speedy – did a fine job in infusing his crook with a mix of wit, humour and appropriate gestures. Rory Kempsell’s ‘Mr. Sowerberry’ proved that not only can he sing but certainly act, while Angus Stobie’s interpretation of ‘Bill Sykes’ was done in the best-possible way considering the actor’s youth: as a menacing street punk whose raspy voice would lend itself perfectly to performing rock theatre. Taylor Torkington stands at the other end of the spectrum, he is a chorister regularly singing for the St. Mary’s Cathedral choir and his pure and innocent voice is perfect for the naïve persona of ‘Oliver’.

As for the young ladies (who fared slightly better in delivering a Cockney accent): Molly Jamieson in the part of the ‘Artful Dodger’ was a true revelation, her persona exudes all the cheekiness and street-smart cleverness this part requires. Ellie Campbell in the part of ‘Nancy’ delivered a feisty performance with a voice to match, and Storm Austin as ‘Widow Corney’ had her big moment of comedic display when she gave Mr. Bumble a well-deserved trashing with a household utensil.
Matthew Reeve’s musical direction and Christie Gowan’s choreography both contributed to make this production, which of course includes all the classic songs like ‘Food Glorious Food’, ‘Consider Yourself’, ‘Oom-Pah-Pah’ or ‘Who Will Buy’ an entertaining experience for young and old. All the cast (of which I simply cannot mentioned every single one by name) should be applauded for their hard work!