This Oliver provides a disturbing picture of the 19th century

PUBLISHED: 14:00 18 December 2009 | UPDATED: 16:37 07 September 2010

OLIVER TWIST Lion and the Unicorn Theatre Kentish Town Four star rating Billed as Oliver Twist as you ve never seen it before! A sort of antidote to Lionel Bart, this is Ray Shell and Giant Olive s second venture into the seamier world of Dickens. Trev

OLIVER TWIST

Lion and the Unicorn Theatre

Kentish Town

Four star rating

Billed as "Oliver Twist as you've never seen it before!" A sort of antidote to Lionel Bart, this is Ray Shell and Giant Olive's second venture into the seamier world of Dickens.

Trevor Nunn took eight and a half hours (plus interval|) to explore Nicholas Nickleby so we must give thanks to the genius of Piers Beckley who manages to tell the story in just over two hours (plus interval).

The very first scene in the workhouse is a long scene of abuse. Children beaten senseless and almost naked women showered with water and sent out into the street. For me this was too much violence and went on for too long. I hasten to say that only one person I spoke to felt the same way. But in my opinion this upstages the violence in later scenes which is much less shocking as a result.

Edward Kingham is an unexpected but effective Fagin. Dressed in a lurid kaftan and sitting legs akimbo on what appears to be a throne, he is a somewhat regal figure. He is affectionate, almost gentle, which makes his sudden explosions into temper even more effective. We are not even aware of his Jewish background until the very end when he is thrown to the howling mob crying "Dirty Jew".

With a cast of 20 splendid performers I do not have the space to mention more than one or two. Gemma Sandzer is a real feisty little boy as Oliver who she portrays with exquisite sympathy. Pretty Amy Merrutia's Nancy is lusty and a real tough cookie. Mark Gilham a thoroughly cheeky chappie as the Artful Dodger and Anthony Kernan and Bethany Thompson as the Bumbles give us a welcome piece of fun in their comedy scenes.

These people are the dregs of society, but Shell treats all his characters with compassion. Even Bill Sykes' horrible murder of Nancy is a crime of passion, a result of his betrayal by someone he loves.

This is altogether a deeply disturbing, grim piece which gives a convincing, and terrifying picture of the 19th century criminal community

Until January 10.

Aline Waites


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