Review: Oliver Twist, Red Earth Theatre

Any doubts about whether Charles Dickens is suitable for young children will be quelled by Red Earth Theatre’s ingenious re-imagining of Oliver Twist.

Those in the audience at Belper’s Community Theatre last night were gripped by the compelling, moving and very often funny telling of the classic story.

The cast of four actors, already in character as a travelling troupe of players, mingled with the audience before the action began persuading two youngsters to bark and growl pantomime style every time Bill Sykes called for his dog. And so they did with great enthusiasm – never once missing a cue. But then the same youngsters were quietly rapt the next minute, as the brutal life in Victorian London was depicted before them.

The Remarkable Tale of Oliver Twist was a fantastic feast of Dickens’ melodrama, romance and social realism served up with a music hall theme.

As the tiny cast played more than 20 characters between them there was a need for slick timing and a clever use of props, costumes and choreography.

The theatre group more than stepped up to the mark to produce a show which sparked the imagination of adults and children alike.

Adding to the intensity and caricature of the roles was the fact that the actors were performing the story in sign language as well as English – as the core mission of Red Earth is to make theatre more inclusive for the deaf and hard of hearing.

What was most enthralling about the show was the inventiveness of the stage within a stage, the puppetry and the modern day ‘street dude’ twist to the character of The Artful Dodger, carried off splendidly by Joey Parsad.

Founded in Derby in 1999 by Wendy Rouse and Amanda Wilde, Red Earth was formerly a resident company at the Guildhall Theatre.

At first they launched plays at the theatre and then toured them around Derbyshire. Since then the company has grown and moved home twice – first to Cromford and now to Belper.

They have always worked very closely with community groups and this show at Belper, which was the first in a major tour, was presented in association with Live and Local.

It can be seen at Melbourne Assembly Rooms tonight at 7.30pm and Hilton Village Hall on Saturday at 2pm.

The Remarkable Tale of Oliver Twist will then be touring to towns and cities including Manchester, Norwich, Bath, Sheffield, Birmingham, Margate and Stamford.

The cast was Roseanna Connolly, Caroline Parker, Joey Parsad and Thomas Simper.

The play was adapted by Wendy and Amanda, and directed by Amanda.

The design was by Laura McEwen; AV and graphic design by Dominic Mallin; lighting by Alexandra Stafford; music and sound by Dave Culling; movement direction by Joanne Bernard; AV programmer was Adam P McCready; stage manager Ben drew; BSL translation was by Caroline Parker and Karen Perry; wardrobe supervisor was Ruth Watkin; set construction was by Tim Brierly and scenic painting Houghton Wyatt.