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Oliver Twist review at Open Air Theatre, London – ‘a hodgepodge’

The cast of Oliver Twist at Open Air Theatre, London. Photo: Johan Persson The cast of Oliver Twist at Open Air Theatre, London. Photo: Johan Persson

From the outset, Oliver Twist – a production “created for everyone aged six and over” – struggles to pin down its tone.

Despite a snappy text abridged and updated by Anya Reiss, the production – part of Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre’s Dickens Uncovered season – is a hodgepodge of competing styles.

Director Caroline Byrne gives them all free reign, and as a result the production lurches between pantomime and social criticism, by way of abstract movement and audience interaction, ending up as a cheerful, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink melodrama. Here, ghosts loom from drifting clouds of haze, and leather clad kids skim around on Segways and wheelie trainers.

While undeniably striking, Fly Davis’ design is incoherent – a magic eye portrait of London rendered in dayglow spray paint and gothic monochrome. Quirky, steampunk influenced costumes featuring reversible jackets and detachable bustles give the performers a real fluidity as they shift between characters. The rotating set, constructed from shipping containers piled up into a tiered pyramid, is likewise well used, riddled with panels which open to reveal different locations.

Amongst a jarringly uneven ensemble, there are nevertheless some fine performances. Doubling as Nancy and Mrs Corney, the versatile Gbemisola Ikumelo is by turns manipulative, protective, and comedic, but always charismatic. Michael Hodgson, too, gives a good turn as a mercurial Fagin as slippery and tightly coiled as an eel.

Josh Anio Grigg’s soundtrack takes in scratchy electronic ambience and finger-snapping minimal jazz a la Henry Mancini, fitting a different mood to each of the show’s disconnected sequences.

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An inconsistent family show that’s little more than a bright and energetic jumble of ideas