A fitting tribute to the squalid streets of London in Dickens’ celebrated work, Ramps on the Moon bring their new rendition of Oliver Twist to The Quarry Theatre where Leo Owen caught the show

THIS dark adaptation of Dickens’ classic is characteristically inclusive, putting D/deaf and disabled artists at the forefront of the show in accordance with Ramps on the Moon’s manifesto.

A multi-level scaffold stage with cage below is Designer Hayley Grindle’s grimy centrepiece for Director Amy Leach’s rag tail bunch of steampunk misfits. In this setting, after a particularly gruesome birth, puppet Oliver quickly transforms into Brooklyn Melvin, now 9-years-old and being abused in the workhouse. Here, Mrs Mann’s (Rebekah Hill) catchphrase “Quiet Baby!” echoes around Grindle’s grungy set as a mute Oliver signals for more food, only to be sold on to funeral directors, The Sowerberries.

Oliver’s story progresses narrated by various cast members from his more humorous meeting with the Artful Dodger (Nadeem Islam) recruiting him into “Fagin’s Youth Employment Scheme” to more sinister encounters with Bill Sykes (Stephen Collins) and his puppet dog, Bullseye. Playing a female Fagin, Caroline Parker resembles one of quirky film-maker Jean Jeunet‘s eccentrics, pouring over her treasures like Smeagol. The Bumbles (Steph Lacey and Benjamin Wilson) are a comical duo, providing an amusing account for the Brownlows of Oliver’s history and origins, in exchange for five guineas for a “slap-up wedding”.

Through Rose Brownlow (Katie Erich) offering Oliver salvation, playwright Bryony Lavery exposes Victorian prejudices against the D/deaf community. Brownlow senior (Jack Lord) ties Oliver’s hands behind his back forcing him to learn plosives instead of signing in line with the Pereire Society’s “oralism”, teaching profoundly deaf people to communicate through speech therapy and lip-reading.

Although Leach’s production is brutal, extreme violence on stage is cleverly avoided by Bill’s aggressive acts being reported through a series of news articles displayed on the screen; Nancy (Clare-Louise English) narrating her own murder as Bill “clubs the life out of [her]” and Nancy also recounting Bill’s subsequent suicide.

The play’s final lines return to its opening, having the audience ironically imagine “a long time ago… England when things were different” while snow poignantly falls, drawing clear parallels to modern homelessness and emphasising that while one may be saved, many aren’t.

A pertinent commentary on how cluelessly people react to disabilities, this production is undoubtedly one for the whole community with integrated interpreted creative sign language, audio description and captioning. Grindle’s design even ensures accessibility for the visually impaired with sharp defined edges and deliberately stark monotones. Dickens’ own desire to bridge the gap between people of all walks of life is undoubtedly honoured by Ramps on the Moon’s lively new adaptation.

Oliver Twist shows in The Quarry Theatre 28 February-21 March before continuing its UK tour: