The holiday season traditionally sees the same favourite plays, books, songs and films return to entertain audiences year after year. This year, Alberta Theatre Projects brings a modernized version of Oliver Twist to Calgary for the Christmas season.
With dark, haunting undertones, Charles Dickens' classic play tells a story of an orphan boy set in 19th century London. Poor little Oliver (Patrick Quin, a recent University of Calgary graduate) has to fend for himself against the cruel, cold world that he is subjected to. He has a long, winding road to eventually being adopted by his biological father (Russell Roberts)--but that's not before getting shoved into a coffin at mortician's house, being abducted by a pickpocket, becoming a pickpocket, stealing from his biological father, living with his biological father, getting kidnapped again by the pickpockets, having his half-brother attempt to ensure that he is never found again, breaking and entering a middle-class house, getting caught, going on a family vacation with the family whose house he broke into, then finally finding his biological father once again to be adopted and live happily ever after. Phew, that sure is a lot to take in for a children's play.
Michael O'Brien adapted Oliver Twist in 1997 and it was a nominated for the Dora Mavor Moore Award. Along with the alterations the story undertook, the costumes had some changes too. The Artful Dodger (Joel Smith) sports a black and white stripy shirt, a studded belt with red letters spelling out Social Distortion and a fedora instead of a top hat and raggedy clothes. Bill Sikes (Rylan Wilkie), boss of the pickpockets, has a mohawk, while Nancy (Jamie Konchak) is a doppelganger for Gwen Stefani.
ATP usually has some pretty intricate stage effects.This time around, however, the stage effects are considerably disappointing. Whenever a character is getting "beaten," the sound effects correlating the punishment are simply a yelp of pain. It's very difficult to believe that anyone was in pain, as nothing's very convincing about it. Even in the last scene when Bill hangs himself after beating Nancy to death, a child in the audience muttered, "that was just stupid" at the horrendous attempted suicide.
While the modernized version of the play isn't so great, it does have some quirky little perks to it, too. ATP always uses their space to their advantage and the stage set up is neat. There is a bridge with ladder-like supports permanently attached to the stage. There are two catwalks on the left and right of the stage for easy exits and entrances and the two aisles leading up to the stage are frequently used to make the play more interactive for the audience. The performances from the actors and actresses are impeccable as well, bringing the adaptation to life with their charisma and passion. If you are looking for a new variation of the classic story by Charles Dickens, then check out ATP's version of Oliver Twist.
Oliver Twist runs at the Martha Cohen Theatre until Wed., Dec. 26. Tickets at Ticketmaster. The Gauntlet loves orphans.