Hull Truck’s take on Oliver Twist is convincingly Dickensian, both in its vivid characters and in the momentum of the narrative, holding the audience tight in its grip and evoking the swirl of Victorian London – its bustle and its casual brutishness.
Ciaran Bagnall’s design, featuring a set of wooden walkways, leading above the stage and out over the audience, adds to this immediacy. It’s as if we’re living Oliver’s life alongside him.
There’s a vibrancy to the performances as well. The songs – a mix of traditional carols and original numbers – lend a carnival feel to the proceedings, and the actors completely inhabit their roles. There are the broad brush strokes of Dickens’ characterisation – in that it’s easy to spot the baddies – but it’s all delivered in a way that feels real and lived rather than exaggerated.
Tilly Sproats (who alternates the part with Henry Armstrong) gives an accomplished turn as the put-upon Oliver, putting across both his wilfulness and his vulnerability, while Samuel Edward-Cook is a genuinely menacing Bill Sykes.
Deborah McAndrew’s lithe script trims off some of the fat of the novel. Fagin’s co-conspirator Monks is jettisoned altogether, at no expense to the narrative. The recasting of a female Fagin (Flo Wilson) and Artful Dodger adds a welcome freshness to a very familiar story, which coupled with Mark Babych’s sprightly direction – including actors popping up through a trapdoor – makes this feel like a new introduction to a much-loved old friend.