1956 Entertainment have made a welcome return to Salford Arts Theatre with their latest production, the deliciously dark Oliver Twist.  1956 Entertainment have previously set high standards at Salford Arts Theatre with their staging of Sexual Perversity in Chicago and Pudding Black – can their twist (forgive the pun) on Oliver match up?

Produced and directed by Lee Lomas (who also plays Bill Sikes) and Amy-Jane Ollies (who plays the role of Nancy), Oliver Twist is far from the cheery musical version.  They promise a dark re-imagining of the story and they deliver.

This production of Oliver Twist at Salford Arts Theatre takes advantage of a compact area, allowing for the audience to feel completely immersed in the story.  As we enter the theatre, the cast are already there, in character, standing and sitting around set and amongst the audience.  Wooden pallets surround the stage.  Ominous music plays.  It feels edgy from the outset.

We follow Oliver’s journey from birth to workhouse; runaway to unwilling criminal; and salvation at the hands of Mylie (Julie Hannan), Brownlow (Scott Berry) and Rose Maylie (Florence King).  As the story progresses, the actors are often found shouting from all around theatre, making the audience really feel at the centre of what is transpiring in front of them.

Emma Fernell is cast in the role of Oliver Twist.  She delivers an excellent performance, coming across as sweet, naive and completely innocent in a world of villains.

The dual roles played by  Scott Berry and Julie Hannan work particularly well together, especially in their Bumble/Sowerberry guises.

In 1956’s Entertainment’s production, it is the villains who so frequently steal the show.  The cheeky Artful Dodger is played by the excellent Dale Gerrard who also narrates the story with great charisma.

Graham Eaglesham is tremendous as Fagin – at times sinister, occasionally paranoid and bordering on neurotic.  He really is the type of criminal with whom you would not know where you stand – friend or foe; likely to pat you on the back or stab you through the chest?  But for out and out menace, Lee Lomas is exceptional.  His performance leaves the audience completely mesmerised (occasionally hard struck) by the intimidating performance.

Amy-Jane Ollies is also outstanding as Nancy.  She manages to evoke sympathy from the audience with a heartfelt performance showing conflict, nobility and morality as her character sets out to help Oliver escape the clutches of her lover Bill Sikes, risking all to save him.

The classic tale also takes an occasional more modern twist, as the scenes are split with contemporary music.  It’s a nice effect and a reminder that music has become quite the tool in 1956 Entertainment productions.  Florence King also performs some musical interludes with beautiful singing and flute playing.

Oliver Twist is another triumph for the excellent 1956 Entertainment.  It’s gripping, striking and edgy.  It’s as far from the original musical as imaginable, but delivers perfectly a far more accurate and stirring version of the tale.

Where and when is Oliver Twist performed?

1956 Entertainment bring Oliver Twist to Salford Arts Theatre, Kemsing Walk Off Tunbridge Sq, Off Liverpool St, Salford from Wednesday 3 May until Saturday 6 May.

Tickets priced £10 (£8 concessions) available from Salford Arts Theatre website.