Creative Cauldron at ArtSpace presents Oliver Twist, their own unique stage adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic novel, not to be confused with Lionel Bart’s widely known musical, Oliver! An installment of Creative Cauldron’s Learning Theater Workshop, young student actors are paired with professionals, with a cast ranging from ages 6 to 55 in this particular production. Producing Director Laura Connors Hall does a fantastic job guiding a large cast of children, alongside Co-Director and Musical Composer Matt Conner.
Scenic Designer Margie Jervis aspired to create a graphic novel effect for this production, and does so with an illuminated London skyline painted against a black backdrop. A couple of elevated platforms allow the large ensemble to maneuver themselves creatively in the intimate space. Jervis is also the Costume Designer for this production, and brings the Victorian era to life with top hats, capes, and large mustaches for the wealthy men, and fingerless gloves and shabby clothing for the poor. Wealthy women wear brightly-colored dresses, while the poorer ones don aproned dresses, shawls, and bonnets. The children wear uniforms that are painted in a way to look ragged and dirty. Paul Spiegelblatt is responsible for Light and Sound design, using a dreary blue for the majority of the show alongside wind and rain effects. These elements work together to create a particularly somber atmosphere.
Oliver Twist begins with a dirty workhouse full of coughing children, where Oliver Twist (Colter Adams) is born. The famous “Can I have some more?” question follows, resulting in Oliver being cast off by Mr. Bumble (E. Augustus Knapp) into the care of a cruel undertaker and his wife, Tom Stamp and a scene stealing Mary Myers as Mr and Mrs. Sowerberry, where they sing “Welcome: The Undertakers Lament.” Oliver, unwilling to settle into a life as an undertaker’s apprentice, escapes to London (with an entertaining number, “LondonTowne”) and meets Fagin (also Tom Stamp) and his band of young pickpockets, including the feisty Jack Dawkins (Kaia Jefferson), where they sing about their pastime in the song “Take it From Me.” However, when Oliver is wrongly accused of stealing…he is arrested! What follows is a roller-coaster adventure, in which Oliver changes hands countless times and is put through several ordeals. Plot changes happen at a fast clip and can be hard to keep up with, but fortunately the production’s program has a helpful timeline included that make it easy to keep up. Will Oliver ever find a peaceful, loving home?
I was immensely impressed with this young, talented cast. While there were some line stumbles at my performance, they all recovered quickly and without embarrassment, which is proof of solid, supportive direction and self-confidence. They also had to clearly articulate large words, old-fashioned language, as well as accents, which was all done well. I do wish that there were more comedic moments in the plot. While they made it clear that their objective with this adaptation was to show the mistreatment of the poor and the seriousness of the situation, one craves little breaks from long, emotional scenes, of which there were none.
The performance ended with a question and answer session, and the children were incredibly enthusiastic and excited, urging the audience to ask more questions and answering them eagerly.
If your child is interested in theater, then Oliver Twist is a production that you must take them to. Watching their peers perform onstage is encouraging, and they will be able to have any questions they may have answered.
Running Time: Approximately 60 minutes, without an intermission.
Oliver Twist plays through November 18, 2012 at Creative Cauldron at ArtSpace – 410 South Maple Avenue, in Falls Church, VA. For tickets, call (571) 239-5288, or order them online.