REVIEW: Oliver Twist, The Dukes, Williamson Park

Josie Cerise as Dodger. Photo by Daniel Tierney.
Josie Cerise as Dodger. Photo by Daniel Tierney.

Even street urchins, vagabonds and rogues would have been ducking for cover at Tuesday night’s performance of Oliver Twist in Williamson Park.

As the crowds gathered at the foot of the Ashton Memorial for the first scene of the Dukes’ production of the well known Dickensian tale, the rain came, and continued to come for the rest of the evening.

A scene from Oliver Twist with Jerome Thompson (Oliver) and Victoria Brazier (Mr Fang). Photo by Darren Andrews.

A scene from Oliver Twist with Jerome Thompson (Oliver) and Victoria Brazier (Mr Fang). Photo by Darren Andrews.

Despite the gloom it was a lively, fun start, with introductions to the characters who bounded, charged or confidently descended from the hill and steps above.

Prior to this some of the actors, who we soon knew as Fagin’s gang, played by members of the Dukes Young Company, engaged the audience with card tricks and jokes, spreading the performance out into the crowd which Dukes productions execute so well.

Josie Cerise, who played (the Artful) Dodger, immediately shone, regaling the audience with a Victorian poem full of puns and metaphor and jokes about “posh picnics” before declaring “this park is ours”.

Surely this actress, who played ugly sister Grisela in the Dukes’ version of Cinderella over Christmas, has a rising star to her name?

Attending with my two young children, the movement of the show - the way the action transferred from one part of each “set” to another - ensured little boredom from them as they followed the characters round as the story progressed.

But problems arising from the wet and windy weather unfortunately got in the way of the performance for me.

There was “umbrella etiquette” to consider, and sitting down was extremely uncomfortable, as was the general experience of standing under a tree getting slowly thrummed on the head by large fat rain drops.

As a journalist trying to unpick the story and the hidden meanings and messages within the narrative, the conditions weren’t ideal.

However, interestingly, the experience galvanised an inner guilt that I was here, watching this sad story unfold of an orphaned child abused by individuals and a cruel system, with my well-fed, fairly well waterproofed kids (eating marshmallows) worrying about getting a bit wet.

And so it is.

In the woods, a fire burned, and we meet Fagin, played by Russell Richardson, who cuts a fine figure of roguish/uncouthness and brings the story to a whole different level as the dark side of gang culture - and innocence lost - emerges. It’s a great set there in the woods, and although not the streets of London, it captures the mood of the story very well.

As we gathered for scene three between the Ashton Memorial and Butterfly House, the play continued unabated and the judge sitting atop her throne and dishing out ironic insults to women (she was herself a woman) brought at least some humorous respite to a very soggy audience.

Oliver Twist himself, played by Jerome Thompson, cut a very innocent figure, meek, mild and perhaps not what I was expecting, which was more of a brazen, slightly cocky little boy.

It was a good show, directed by Joe Sumsion and written by Debbie Oates.

But for me it didn’t carry, or deliver, quite the same level of meaning as Cinderella did in The Round in December, or A Christmas Carol there the year before.

Despite this, if you get a dry and relatively warm night, Oliver Twist is a must for your summer events calendar, and as always, a magical and long-lasting experience for the whole family.

Tickets are available from The Dukes at www.dukes-lancaster.org.