Touring – reviewed at The Other Place, London
Charles Dickens’ story of the orphan boy who nicely asked for more dinner in an orphanage before training to become a pickpocket is here refocused on the older ringleader of Victorian London’s underworld, Fagin. In the musical and film, little is shared of Fagin’s backstory. But it is the beginning of this contemporary dance piece in two acts.
Fagin as a young boy has a similar trajectory as Oliver – he is also an orphan in a workhouse – where he meets the young Bill Sykes. The pair long for wealth, families and children rather than their current gruelling lives, so they run away. Their ambition and lack of scruples works in their favour, with their pickpocketing operation becoming so successful that they recruit ‘employees’.
At the end of Act I, Oliver arrives and the rest of the story is largely familiar. This cuts short the opportunity to explore Fagin’s psychology through his past and turns the piece into a fairly close interpretation of Oliver Twist instead. Though a contemporary dance version of the story certainly has value, getting stuck into Fagin’s psyche and wider, systemic Victorian poverty would give this piece more power and originality. The ending provides some commentary on the cyclical nature of the British social class system, but there is much more scope for deeper exploration.
Tony Adigun’s choreography is quick and sinewy, evoking in turn cats, serpents and rodents. As the ensemble skulks from shadow to shadow with intermittent explosions, there’s a sense of rage, frustration and unfulfilled potential. An ensemble of children emphasises the pervasiveness of youth poverty then and now, with young people who have few opportunities latching onto anyone promising security.
The richly visual world of Victorian London streets is vibrant and vivacious, though the potential to explore background characters in its canon is under-explored. Adigun tries to take a new spin on a classic tale, but the story he tells cleaves too close to the original to fully do so.