So anyway, I’m back after the yuletide trip up north to see family and friends. It’s always strange being back in Manchester – seeing what’s changed, seeing what’s not, and seeing how many extra supermarkets have been built in my absence (one this year).
Most of the time was spent seeing people I’ve not seen for ages (hello Jenny) and doing food and drink. On Boxing Day however it was a trip to the theatre. As a family, we’ve been doing this for the last three years, always to the Library Theatre in Manchester.
As the name suggests, the Library Theatre is located in the Central Library building in central Manchester. This year the Library Theatre Company put on Oliver Twist. And it was superb.
The action takes place on the same set all the way through – essentially a large, derelict library (Central Library actually) with books and chairs strewn in the rubble. The stage is filled with trapdoors and alcoves, making it amazingly adaptable, providing the right ambience for the workhouse, a street or even a house.
The eleven actors play all the characters – sometimes even changing costume mid scene in an extremely well rehearsed and well choreographed routine. At times, the actors whip out musical instruments to accompany the action, and Punch and Judy puppets are used to either emphasise, or draw the eye away from the physical violence, depending on how you wish to take it.
Of course it’s not exactly Christmassy, which means it’s the perfect antidote to the usual fare of pantos and big hitters at rival theatres, but a few panto-esque moments were built in, with some well worked in pieces of audience interaction featuring Mr Bumble trying to flog Oliver to the audience (cue a fantastic moment where someone waved a fiver, only for the actor to take it and retort that he didn’t know who that Charles Dickens person was on the note), and later with Bill Sykes and Nancy looking for Oliver. In a way it is surprising, but it fitted in perfectly with the rest of the production – a production which plays the humour where it exists, but never ever skimps on the drama either. And no, there’s certainly diluting of Dickens’s work, and certainly no dumbing down.
In short, superb. And it’s on until the 21 January 2006 if you’re in the area.