Chino Odimba’s neat twist on Oliver Twist makes the point that the exploitation of boys like Oliver by criminals in Dickens’s novel is exactly paralleled by the trafficking of innocent helpless, terrified young refugees into Britain today.
Deftly directed by Natalie Wilson, this slick five hander takes us from Aleppo where Adbul (Jordan Bamford) has lost almost everything, to a refugee camp where his mother (Dilek Rose) dies of pneumonia, to the heart of a criminal network in London. The ensemble work is smooth and stylised physical theatre drives the story telling forward. There’s a good moment, for example, when the whole cast is in a dangerously small boat. And, inevitably there’s much doubling of roles although that too is skilfully done through fine acting, voice work and minimal costume change so that there’s never any doubt who is who.
One of Theatre Centre’s many strengths is its talent for finding and casting excellent young actors. All five here do a fine job – Bhav Joshi as the ruthless Fabian, Alister Hawke as the smiling, devlish factory owner and later as the Bill Sykes character, Skinner. Then there’s Rebecca Hamilton as the charismatic, thieving but ultimately decent Nancy and Jordan Bamford as Abdul, shaking with fear, gibbering in a strong accent, not knowing whom to trust and wanting only to find his Aunty Yasmin.
The really outstanding performance, though, comes from the highly accomplished, versatile Dilek Rose. First she is Abdul’s be-scarfed mother, in love with her journalist husband and thrilled with her new baby. Before long, she is alone and trying to get her teenager out of the war zone to safety. At other times Rose gives us a nicely observed, totally naturalistic police sergeant in London trying both to do her job and help a lost boy. Her cameo as the kindly woman feeding birds in the park who finds the lost Abdul and takes him home to food and safety (or so she thinks) is delightful too.
This is a show which really makes its audience – many of whom are likely to be young – think about some very serious, relevant and topical issues. And as usual with Theatre Centre it pulls that off without ever forgetting that this is a play so it also has to entertain. It’s full of dramatic tension and occasionally there’s humour. And Abdul’s situation is so dire that it is probably only audience members familiar with Oliver Twist who aren’t surprised that Odimba allows Abdul a happy ending – or at least the chance of a new beginning.
First published by Sardines http://www.sardinesmagazine.co.uk/reviews/review.php?REVIEW-West%20End%20&%20Fringe-Twist&reviewsID=2993