How different might the greatest family tea time musical of all time have been if its writers had dropped the Disney-happy ending, and instead moved into a deeper, more graphic, exploration of the themes of juvenile delinquency, inner-city poverty and class tension which its source novel attempted to investigate?
For whilst Carol Reed’s 1968 film version of Charles Dicken’s ‘Oliver Twist’ makes us believe that good manners and optimism can save us from the despairs of homelessness, it seems to miss the point that Twist was never really about the struggle of a young man, but rather a parable about class and wealth.
Rebalancing this message, Tony Adigun’s powerful reimaging of Dickens is an intentional, arty, attempt to move Oliver! from it’s slapstick west-end/feature film feel into a more sinister and realistic setting, simultaneously casting it’s traditional hero into the realistic behaviours expected from a child circumnavigating homelessness, peer pressure and an environment of alpha-hoodlums. All of which leads us to the realisation that if our hero couldn’t have been as pristine as we’ve been led to believe, then surely the members of Fagin’s child gang have also been misrepresented.
Presented through street/Avant-garde dance, Adigun moves Oliver! away from Lionel Bart’s award-winning west end soundtrack into darker, less rhythmic, sounds of electronica and hip-hop, themselves supporting the re-imaging of Oliver and creating a dark and eerie atmosphere relatable to the style of contemporary music traditionally heard in areas overrun with poverty and tension.
Yet for all of the emotive soundtrack, subtle playing with the audiences deep-rooted beliefs of what Oliver Twist stands for, and it’s superb re-contextualising of Dickens, Fagin’s Twist’ standout moments belong to it’s extensive and highly choreographed dance scenes which manage to both defy human physicality’s and re-tell a story. A particularly complex re-telling of Oliver learning how to pick a pocket or two steals a show already bursting with moments of energy, personality and risk.
Leaving you to question why you might have overestimated Oliver, and stereotyped the rest of his gang, Adigun rubs out ‘Oliver!’s message of hope and welcomes back the heart of Dickens and his exploration of what happens when humans are pushed to their limits.