Lyttelton Arts Factory, Lyttelton

13/12/2016 - 30/12/2016

Production Details

Directed by Mike Friend
Choreographer Neil Fisher
Lighting designer Michael Carlton

After a 3 week sell-out run in December 2015 at East Riding Theatre, UK, Oliver is here…. With a twist! As the West End comes to Lyttelton

Lyttelton Arts Factory will use a groundbreaking collaborative process to combine visiting UK professionals with local artists and primary school drama students this Christmas.

Artistic Director Mike Friend has further adapted Oliver Twist for Christchurch to celebrate local talent. Poet Ben Brown joins a live band led by Carmel Courtney featuring Devilish Mary & The Holy Rollers. Theatre lovers will recognize David Ladderman and Tom Trevella from Loons Circus Theatre Company successes The Butler, Macbeth and Happy Home Road (also directed by Mike Friend).

In this unique approach, these familiar faces along with Loons in Schools’ drama students will stand side by side with some of the UK’s finest – including Clive Kneller who has appeared in Royal Shakespeare Company productions and on Doctor Who.

Director Mike Friend says “The earthquake was a blessing in some ways, simply because the old venue, The Loons was so limited in its usage. Our new venue LAF offers full scale opportunities in the arts, festivals, touring companies, education and so on. I’ve always wanted a black box, a factory where you can create new work, and celebrate the performing arts. An empty space where designers can do what they want.

West End choreographer Neil Fisher joins the visiting UK performers, courtesy of an international artist exchange between Lyttelton Arts Factory and its award winning sister, East Riding Theatre. As well as Mike Friend’s direction of A Christmas Carol, and Sparrow (by Joe Bennett), local performers have showcased original New Zealand work at ERT, with David Ladderman and Lizzie Tollemache touring their World Buskers Festival show, Mr and Mrs Alexander: Sideshows and Psychics there last year. Next year, Tom Trevella will play the lead role of Van Helsing in ERT’s production of Dracula.

Cara Hitchens aged 18, up and coming young actor from the UK has travelled to New Zealand for the first time especially for the project. She says: “This has been such a surreal experience working in a professional environment on the other side of the world. My friends back home are freezing their arses off and I’m learning my lines in the sunshine and having Christmas at the beach! I love it here.

Oliver is asking for more and raising funds for the Christchurch City Mission this Christmas. Tickets, donations and food can be gifted all season with details at www.laf.co.nz .

Oliver Twist,
Lyttelton Arts Factory, Cnr Oxford Street and Sumner Road, Lyttelton
December 13 to 30th
Tuesday – Sunday, 7.30pm
(Not Christmas Day)
+ selected days at 1.30pm

Lyttelton Arts Factory, Cnr Oxford Street and Sumner Road

Clive Kneller as Fagin
Tom Trevella
David Ladderman
Ben Brown
Cara Hitchens

Band led by Carmel Courtney featuring Devilish Mary & The Holy Rollers

Theatre , Music ,

Breathing new life into a classic tale

Review by Ruth Agnew 17th Dec 2016

In this innovative reinterpretation of the classic Dickens tale, the Lyttleton Arts Factory (LAF) has not only created a fabulous show for the holiday season, but also used theatre as a tool for social commentary to remind us of the less fortunate members of our community as we celebrate Christmas.

Director Mike Friend has invited four actors from his recent UK production of Oliver Twist to join a solid cast featuring professional local performers and a gang of energetic children from the LAF drama classes. As he explains in the programme, instead of slavishly presenting an accurate period piece or shifting the story to another time and place, this version of Oliver Twist exists across myriad eras and nations.

A lack of a clear world in which onstage action exists could lead to a disorienting experience for the audience but in this instance the mash up of time periods and accents reminds us of the universal nature of the key themes presented. A Dickensian Oliver pleads with pompous Mr Bumble for “more sir” in a poorhouse, while his fellow orphans in skinny jeans and hoodies bear a close resemblance to the sad eyed boy who sits outside my local supermarket asking for spare change for a feed.

This is exactly the effect Friend craves, using entertainment to raise awareness of the poverty plaguing people in our community. Production proceeds are going to the Christchurch City Mission.

The action takes place in a shambolic multi-level set based around an industrial scaffold. Every centimetre of the space is employed to excellent effect. One of the most successful uses of these levels occurs in the build up to the ultimate climax, when a juxtaposition between a frenzied dance party and Oliver’s fate gives the audience a Foucault-esque sensory overload.

The technical aspects of the show deserve their own round of applause. Michael Carlton’s lighting design is a form of storytelling on its own. Conventional stage lighting is used alongside strings of bare light bulbs, a glowing brazier and flickering candles. Oliver’s angelic countenance is hammered home to the audience when he rises out of the gloom of the poorhouse from a trapdoor illuminated in a bright spotlight. Villainous Bill Sykes is made more menacing by the use of shadows. Nancy’s tragedy is echoed in the candles lit in her memory: small bright lights in the darkness, too easily extinguished.

None of this symbolism is subtle, nor is it meant to be. This is a brash, bold, loud world. There is no shying away from presenting the brutal reality of life on the wrong side of the poverty line. Both birth and death are shown without employing the use of blackouts or blocking to protect delicate eyes. Oliver is born centre stage, his mother held aloft by a chanting chorus as she grunts and screams in pain. Other depictions of violence are raw and savage.

My twelve year old companion is shocked, but feels the portrayal of Sykes’ abusive relationship with Nancy, and Fagin’s manipulation of his orphan gang, is something children her age should be able to see and discuss. She says that seeing a woman struck onstage made her think about abuse occurring in families today. Parents taking younger children should be aware of the violence, but instead of shying away from taking them to the show, be ready to talk about the issues that it raises for them afterwards. Personally, I think the conversation my companion and I have is an important one, and I am grateful to LAF for that.

The integration of live music also had an impact on my young co-reviewer. She felt the presence of the musicians added an intensity to the action.

This is a versatile and able cast. The UK performers present many of the most memorable monuments of the night, including some amazing acapella performances, notably the beautiful haunting reprise sung by Oliver’s ill-fated mother (Suzy Kingston) and the heart-wrenching lament for Nancy form Flash (Cara Hitchens).

The star of the show is Clive Kneller, a complex and creepy Fagin, one minute likeable, lethal the next. Fagin is a demanding role in any interpretation of Oliver Twist, but Kneller takes his Fagin beyond the stock Dickens bad guy. He is truly terrifying when he is threatening to cut Nancy’s pretty face, and even more sinister when he smilingly hand feeds orphan girls sausages and frenetically dances around a pole with them.

Alongside these impressive visitors, our locals do us proud. As always, Tom Trevella is a standout, managing to portray one of the most despicable characters (Mr Bumble) as convincingly as the most compassionate (Oliver’s saviour, Mr Brownlow). Trevella’s strong vocal skills are well utilised, particularly in the final scene, where his soft, soothing tones help end the play with a feeling of warmth and positivity.

Another familiar Loon, David Ladderman, balances the true cruelty of thief Bill Sykes with the façade of the loveable rogue. It is worth noting that any play that lists these two in the cast will definitely be worth taking a trip through the tunnel for.

Students from the LAF classes play Fagin’s gang. They are a great advertisement for the classes. All the young actors demonstrate confident knowledge of stagecraft, giving energetic yet disciplined performances. The ensemble work is clean and well executed. My companion loves the feisty, pigtailed scrapper Savage (Sienna Friend).

Ben Brown provides a narrative voice throughout, slinking out of the shadows intermittently. This thread of Dickens’ prose, beautifully spoken by someone so recognisably Kiwi, is a constant reminder of the relevance of this story to Christchurch audiences.

Poverty and loneliness are universal problems, and LAF uses Oliver Twist to ask us to remember those who are starving for food, comfort and companionship at this time of year. This is not a depressing evening out, however, as the company closes with a heart warming musical send off, and Dickens’ most important message: there is always hope.

My young friend and I both feel this is a fantastic production overall, breathing new life into a classic tale, and providing entertainment with a heart and purpose. I urge you to take the trip through the tunnel to see this twist on Dickens’ Oliver


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