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Oliver Twist

An invitation unlike any other recently landed in my inbox and I couldn’t resist popping along to see what it was all about. Picture this: you’re in a theatre, the New Wolsey to be exact, but, instead of a live, in-person, theatre performance, you’re watching a pre-recorded film for a production of Oliver Twist by Ramps on the Moon and Leeds Playhouse.

If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us, it’s just how essential the arts are. We need it and thrive on it for the good of our own well-being. When so many of us found ourselves stuck at home, we could only watch as those who make art swiftly adapted and produced home films, theatre productions, play readings, music sessions and concerts, and so much more. Once restrictions were eased enough, many continued this by going into venues to breathe even more life into such shows.

Not only was this crucial for our entertainment, but it also made us think about accessibility. What about those who already couldn’t leave the house or go into these spaces, we had to ask ourselves? It made us think about what they were missing, and thus many companies are looking at the ways we can retain a balance of both live and recorded performance (be it live-streamed at a cinema or pre-recorded view-from-home).

That’s where Ramps on the Moon come in, they were due to tour with an exciting production of Oliver Twist in 2020; but alas the pandemic swiftly put a stop to that plan. That’s when they turned to digital and created their bold, brutal and beautiful new version of Oliver Twist into a film to access in your home – and we were invited to its premiere screening at the New Wolsey, one of the companies official partner venues.

If you’re a regular to the New Wolsey, you’ll likely have heard of Ramps on the Moon but if you haven’t, they are a company that aims to enrich the stories we tell and the way we tell them by normalising the presence of deaf and disabled people, both on and off stage. It’s something I’ve come to personally feel quite passionate about too because I firmly believe the arts should be representing the world around us.

I admit, I rather enjoyed watching a vast array of ‘Lockdown’ productions and shows, there is and was so much great content and art being made available – many of which we probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise. But it often did lack atmosphere and it became easy to be a ‘lazy’ viewer, getting distracted by our homely surroundings; so to get the opportunity to sit in an actual theatre with a handful of other people watching a pre-recorded performance was a unique experience. It did in fact, feel like we were watching a live show, we even all gave applause at the end in appreciation! I think that was telling in itself for how enjoyable the show was, as well as it still being a lovely shared experience.

As for the show itself, I doubt there are many who aren’t familiar with Charles Dickens’ tale of Oliver Twist, but this production has been adapted by award-winning playwright Bryony Lavery, and it sends you on a dark adventure through the twisted streets of London, highlighting its criminal underworld. The show has also been cleverly crafted to feature the use of integrated creative sign language, audio description and captioning.

I think it’s such a brilliantly written story, that you’d struggle to not enjoy any production of it, as it takes us back to that haunting Victorian era of workhouses, orphans, poverty, and the criminal underworld for those without wealth or security in life. But what this production achieves is really special. The use of the screen for captioning and in a couple of scenes was really clever, and although the set was rather simple it was multi-layered and effective; and the use of lighting through-out was crucial in adding to the eerie and moody atmosphere of the drama. It also featured some stunning puppets. There’s even a slightly modern twist to think about with the ending…

As for the cast, they are incredible; and most of them are multi-rolling, which is another skill in itself. It seems unfair to pick a stand-out performance when they were all so excellent, but Caroline Parker making a female Fagin was such a highlight. I love how she breathed new life into such an iconic character, and created a villain that you still sympathise with. Each member of the cast does such a brilliant job in bringing this story and these characters to life, and is a stark reminder of how simple it can be to make the arts we see diverse and accessible.

Above all, I loved every minute of the screening and it truly felt like a night out at the theatre and as though I were watching it live. Sure, you might not quite get that same atmosphere and shared experience or excitement of leaving the house when screening it in your own home – but watching a top quality production in the comfort of your pyjamas can’t be a bad thing right? I would urge everyone to check this production out for it is dark, dramatic and everything you want this Dickens’ classic to be.

You can stream the production online until 20th November. For more information or to book visit: leedsplayhouse.org.uk/oliver-twist-at-home.

Molly Richardsonhttp://www.GrapevineLIVE.co.uk
Molly has a passion for all things entertainment. When not at the theatre, cinema or a concert, she's often found reviewing or blogging about it!
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