This year, Southville’s Tobacco Factory Theatre is offering up the Charles Dickens classic ‘Oliver Twist’ as their festive family show. But only the foolish theatre goer would turn up expecting a performance that was true to the original book. This is the Tobacco Factory Theatre after all!
Relocating the story from the grimy streets of Victorian London to the, well, slightly less grimy streets of modern day Bedminster, writer Adam Peck brings extra heart, warmth and magic to this timely tale. While ‘Oliver Twist’ isn’t set at Christmas that doesn’t make the show any less sparkly. Between the feelgood message, the sense of community and the importance of family (whatever shape that family might take), this new version of the story is really something for South Bristol to be proud of.
And South Bristol is really at the heart of this tale. Artistic Director Heidi Vaughan has pointedly cast most of the performers for this show from our area, and Bedminster and East Street are at the heart of the action. Pointedly, it’s only when Oliver (played beautifully by Defender Nyanhete, who has the most expressive eyes) ventures north to Clifton that his world turns upside down.
Alongside Defender, the cast here are really spot on. Our resident villain Fagin is played to perfection by Beverly Rudd, who quickly has the audience eating out of the palm of her grubby little hand. While Tom Fletcher is a fantastic comic actor in the many roles he assumes here, flitting with ease between the wily Dodger, the knowing Martha and conniving Monks, and ending up dropping more than a few sneaky jokes about how familiar they all look.
A special nod should also go to Shiquerra Roberston Harris for her moving turn as Oliver’s mother Agnes, and her dual role as the conflicted but kindly Nancy, who is torn between doing bad things (as demanded by Bill Sykes – played by Dan Gaisford) and doing the right thing (as suggested by Catherine – played by Alice Barclay).
Katie Sykes’ set is simple but effective, and the live on-stage music from Alex Hearne puts a subtle electro-magic spin on the whole shebang.
All in all? ‘Oliver Twist’ is easily one of the finest festive productions this reviewer has seen in several years and you’d be wise to get yourself a ticket quick sharp.