Dark and intense, James Hyland’s one man show is faithful to Charles Dickens’ novel – but can get a little carried away.

Telling the story of Oliver Twist from the prospect of the novel’s infamous villain Fagin, who is heading into the final hour of his life, there is no doubting that this is an intriguing concept for a show with a strong performance from James Hyland to keep the story moving effectively.

From the second that you step into the White Bear Theatre, the mood is effectively set: dark, chilling and you can imagine the horrible surroundings of Fagin’s prison – really capturing the horror of Victorian prisons – even if this particular character certainly deserves to be there. While the set, lighting and costume design all really help transport the audience to the world in which Fagin lives in, the script feels a little bit more all over the place – particularly in the first five minutes when Fagin’s rant doesn’t seem to have purpose or direction.

However, this being said James Hyland shows real depth and understanding through his performance to bring this infamous character to life. He never attempts to make him a sympathetic character – the way in which he exploits the children he takes in, the way in which he treats Oliver (while blaming Oliver himself for his misfortunes rather unreasonably) it feels authentic and this show never aims to redeem him or his actions. It is a powerful and commanding performance that really keeps the audience engaged. On occasion there are moments in which his anger gets a little bit over the top unnecessarily and can make it feel as though there is only one tone to the character – but it is still an impressive performance.

He is also able to transform into other characters effectively as well – a cheeky Artful Dodger and terrifying Bill Sykes as well as Nancy to really bring the story to life through Fagin’s memories. Although in places it feels it becomes a little more the Bill Sykes show it remains remarkably faithful to the original story in all its darkness and eventual horror. I did feel as though the moments in which Nancy’s death was described, although powerful, felt overdone – despite leaving this audience member wondering how far we have come in terms of dealing with domestic violence since the book was originally published.

Directed by Phil Lowe, this is a pacy and darkly atmospheric production, only slowing down in moments of great tension to highlight the key turning points in the story. The ending as he is led from his cell, pleading for mercy makes you wonder what would have happened to Fagin if society had looked on him a little more kindly as while you can’t justify his actions – you feel as though he was driven to do them through a desire for survival.

It is always interesting to see a show that takes a well known character and reveal a story from their point of view and there is plenty to enjoy here. However, I do feel as though the script could use some tidying in places to make it flow just a little bit easier.

By Emma Clarendon

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐


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