Review: Oliver Twist, Hull Truck Theatre, Hull, until January 5. Box office: 01482 323638 or at

BILLED as "a new version of Oliver with a festive twist!", this is the second Dickens adaptation in succession by Deborah McAndrew to form Hull Truck's Christmas show.

Last year's premiere of A Christmas Carol was snapped up by Leeds Playhouse for this winter, with Amy Leach again taking the director's reins, having made a Hull of a good job of it last time.

Hull Truck artistic director Mark Babych picks up those directorial reins for Oliver Twist, and the result is another superb show: well written, well acted, well directed. Well, no doubt it will be staged elsewhere next year.

Babych's ensemble production opens with bursts of Victorian carols, giving McAndrew's new version a seasonal setting on a largely wooden stage with two walkways, one towering high up above the audience.

As ever with McAndrew, she combines well sketched characterisation with detailed, evocative, fast-moving storytelling that plays equally successfully to adults and children as young as seven that populated the morning show your reviewer saw.

You surely know the story of Oliver Twist, with more to it here than Lionel Bart's musical, Oliver!. Born in a workhouse to a mother who loses her life, he takes a 70-mile journey to London and is sold into an apprenticeship before being recruited by Fagin’s band of pickpockets and thieves as he sinks into London’s grimy underworld in his search for a home, a family and love.

So far, so familiar, but theatre in 2018 is ever changing, gender fluid, often blind to different skin colours, and so Hull Truck's Fagin, my dears, is a woman, played by Flo Wilson, who multi-role plays impressively, like all the adults around her.

In the young company, Artful Dodger still answers to the name Jack but is shared between Erin Findlay and Freya Noman. And why not; artful dodging was not restricted to boys.

A female Fagin, on the other hand, emphasises how women had to be resourceful in Victorian times, all the harder to achieve in a male-dominated world. Fagin and Lauryn Redding's Nancy are now on parallel paths; both Wilson and Redding are terrific in these key roles.

Henry Armstrong played Oliver at this performance; the role is being shared with Tilly Sproats, by the way, so again Hull Truck is looking at stretching the opportunities for both young boys and girls.

John Biddle's compositions thread the show together; Ciaran Bagnall's set and lighting designs are of the highest quality; likewise Sian Thomas's costumes.

York audiences will recall Samuel Edward-Cook from his fledgling acting days in the city as Sam Coulson. How pleasing it is to see him back on a Yorkshire stage as the bullying Noah Claypole and in particular as the brutal Bill Sikes, whose death scene, involving a Guy Fawkes guy on November 5, is breathtakingly enacted.

Charles Hutchinson

Following the huge popularity of last year’s A Christmas Carol, writer Deborah McAndrew returns with a show packed with dance and song, including traditional carols, folk tunes and new music. A story of courage in adversity, Oliver Twist is a classic tale that touches us all, with a large dose of Christmas cheer and festive sparkle!

“Christmas is often the time when families come together to go to theatre and it is an honour to create a few magic hours of storytelling that everyone can enjoy.”

Mark Babych, Artistic Director

Recommended age 7+