Review: Oliver Twist, Captive Audience

Picture by Andy Mayers

It really shouldn’t be possible to set Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens’ portrayal of poverty, child labour, abuse and violence, in the 21st century but the Captive Audience Theatre Company has proved conclusively that it is.

I knew before taking my seat at the Strutts Centre, in Belper, that the adaptation was modern but I hadn’t quite prepared myself for the reality of what might be presented by the theatre group.

Within minutes of curtain up I had a tear trickling down my cheek and I was on the edge of my seat for the whole of this mesmerising show.

The driving force behind Captive Audience, Larry Waller, says his vision for the production is driven by his observation that the suffering first described by Dickens in 1837 is still evident and clearly visible in any city in the world right now.

If he wanted the audience to leave disturbed by that fact, he and his team did a magnificent job.

With the help of writers Terry Stevenson and George Gunby, Waller has taken the original text and created a unique script that makes the most of a host of talented young actors and some stalwarts of the amateur drama scene.

If your reference point for Oliver is Mark Lester in the film version of Lionel Bart’s musical and Nancy singing As Long As He Needs Me then you are in for a bit of a shock with this production. This is no saccharine view of the criminal world. It is, at times, dark and violent with the cruelty of our world laid bare for all to see. The young children sitting in front of me were visible frightened at times.

That’s not to say there aren’t lighter moments and the better side of human nature is also brought to the fore.

The costumes, lighting, set design and music were all very subtle and extremely effective and were there to support perfectly the action on stage. To be honest I was so captivated with the story I hardly noticed the set, which can only be good.

Waller has selected such a strong team for this show and cast them all so perfectly it would take too long to write all the plaudits they deserve, but for me Paul Davies as the manipulative, sly Fagin was superb, he was obviously in his element as a villain.

The other two stand-out performances were by Mohammed Jahed as the menancing Bill Sikes and Victoria Fernandes as the abused Nancy.  They were both very confident and tackled the difficult parts brilliantly.

If there are any tickets left then this is a play worth changing your plans for this weekend. It can be seen tonight tomorrow and Saturday at 7.30pm. There is also a matinee on Saturday. For tickets go to

To include as many young people as possible in the show Captive Audience has two or three people playing many of the roles so this cast list is going to include everyone.

Oliver Twist, Eva Moss, Freddie Levesley and Nico Norton-Henson; Fagin, Paul Davies; Bill Sikes, Mohammed Jahed; Nancy, Victoria Fernandes; Artful Dodger, Jess Waller, Solomon Thomas and George Comber; Mr Bumble, Michael Fletcher; Mrs Corney, Verna Bayliss; Mr Brownlow and Mr Sowerberry, Nicholas Evison; Rose, Molly Boursnell, Flo Higley and Isabel Hawley; Monks and Noah Claypole, Henry Stubbs; Charley Bates, Philip Lamb and Ben Pimperton; Mr Grimwig, Terry Stevenson; Mrs Sowerberry and others, Sheila Kay Sly; Charlotte, Emma Nelson, Leo Pedder and Dolcie Stewart; Tom, Louis Canning, Dan Pimperton and George Linford; Toby, Jesamine Machin, Daisy Bunting and Charlie Bramley; Barney, Connie Machin, Freya Ryan and Jonah Davies; Bird, Maggie Waller, Issac Tomlinson and Jack Hawley; Sneak, Sophie Canning, Austin Yates and Evie Davies.

Lighting, Jamie Vella, sound Andy Bole, music Susan Stevenson, percussion Ben Waller, stage manager Caroline Hawley.