Oliver Twist

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Oliver Twist is the popular name for the famous novel by Charles Dickens (1812-1870)[1], and thus also for a large number of adaptations for various media since its first publication.

The original novel

Oliver Twist, or The Parish Boy's Progress (usually referred to simply as Oliver Twist) was the second novel by English writer Charles Dickens (1812-1870) [2] and was originally published in monthly instalments in the magazine Bentley's Miscellany, from February 1837 to April 1839, with the title Oliver Twist, or the Parish Boy's Progress. The novel then appeared in in three volumes (actually six months before the initial serialisation was completed), published by Richard Bentley, the owner of Bentley's Miscellany. The book was originally also published as Oliver Twist, or The Parish Boy's Progress under the author's pseudonym of "Boz", and included 24 steel-engraved plates by Cruikshank.

The novel tells the story of the orphan Oliver Twist, born in a workhouse and sold into apprenticeship with an undertaker. After escaping, Oliver travels to London, where he meets the "Artful Dodger", a member of a gang of juvenile pickpockets led by the elderly criminal Fagin.

Adaptations for the stage

Numerous adaptations of Oliver Twist, under a range of titles, have been done for various media since its original publication (see the Wikipedia entry on "Oliver Twist" for example[3]). Listed below are all the versions performed in South Africa.

Oliver Twist, or The Parish Boy's Progress by Barnett (1838)

A three-act burletta by Charles Zachary Barnett (fl 1830s)[4], the piece opened at London's Pavilion Theatre, which was know for its crude melodramas, in May of 1838. In some cases referred to as "A Domestic Drama in Three Acts", the play was published from the prompter's book in the series English and American drama of the nineteenth century by J. Duncombe, London. "Embellished with a fine engraving, by Mr. Findlay, from a drawing, taken in the [London] Theatre". Later published by Thomas Hailes Lacy in the series Lacy's Acting edition (no. 494) and by J. Duncombe & Company again in 1899.

According to the blurb for the TheatreArtsPress.com online version (2015)[5], this version is considered the first theatrical adaptation of Charles Dickens' novel, and with "its large cast and its 21 scenes, the play was truly a theatrical extravaganza thrilling audiences. Emphasizing the crude and violent nature of its characters, the play uses every known theatrical device of its time to create this grand melodrama of the Victorian stage."

Oliver Twist by an anonymous author (late 1860s)

A piece called simply Oliver Twist is listed as part of Disney Roebuck's repertoire during his 1869 tour of South Africa. This may simply have been a version of Barnett's text, since no author is mentioned by the source (Bosman, 1980) or seemingly by Roebuck.

Oliver! by Lionel Bart (1960)

Oliver! [6] is a 1960 British musical, based on Dicken's novel, with music and lyrics by writer and composer Lionel Bart (1930-1999) [7].

It first opened in the New Theatre in the West End in 1960, going on to enjoy a long run, as well as long and successful runs on Broadway, many tours and numerous revivals since.

The musical was filmed successfully filmed in 1968, directed by Carol Reed and winning six Academy Awards including Best Picture.

Oliver Twist by Anya Reiss (2017)

The adaptation by Anya Reiss ()[] premiered at the Regent's Park Theatre, London and was directed by Caroline Byrne.

Performance history of all versions in South Africa

1876: A piece called Oliver Twist (in an unidentified adaptation of the Dickens novel) was performed by the Disney Roebuck company, under the management of Charles Wilstone in the Athenaeum Hall, Cape Town, on 20 October, with Jenny Lind (Anon.), as benefit for Mr W. Foulis and Mrs Foulis.

1962: Oliver! staged by the Brian Brooke Company at the Brooke Theatre in February, directed by Brooke, with Christopher Voysey (Oliver), Kenneth Baker (Mr Bumble), Marjorie McConvill (Mrs Corney), Joey Wishnia (Mr Sowerberry), Eileen Lawless (Mrs Sowerberry & Mrs Bedwin), Jo-Ann Pezarro (Charlotte), Aubrey Ellis (Noah Claypole), Howard Sacks (Artful Dodger), Arne Gordon (Fagin), Judy Layne (Nancy), Wanda Renirie (Bet), Ivor van Rensburg (Bill Sikes), Gilyan Francesco (Mr Brownlow), Tini Walker (Old Sally) and others. Musical direction by Bill Walker. Some roles were played by other actors when the production subsequently went on tour, like the role of Oliver was played by Roy Quinn and also by Jeremy Fogg.

1971: Oliver! staged 22 June by the Grey Junior School in association with The Port Elizabeth Shakespearean Festival. Directed and designed by Helen Mann with Musical Director Robert Selley, Chorus Master Wilhelm van der Nest and starring Terrence Scarr as Oliver Twist, with Harry Owen (Mr Bumble), Edith Porter (Mrs Corney), Sandy Nicholls (Old Sally), Philip Godawa, Leslie Speyers and Andrew Leitch the servants at the Workhouse, Trevor Hicks (Mr Sowberry), Joan Sneesby (Mrs Sowberry), Carol Owen (Charlotte), Ronald Hicks (Noah Claypole), at the Undertaker's, Roy Williams (Fagin), Barry Meyer (The Artful Dodger), Ann Fincham (Nancy), Jenny Bach (Bet), Jeremy Baylis (Bill Sykes), Bunty Richards (Bullseye), at the Thieves Kitchen, and Reg Hicks (Mr Brownlow), Alfred Porter (Dr Grimwig), and Elizabeth Shires (Mrs Bedwin).

1978: Oliver! staged for PACT in Johannesburg, directed by British director Geoffrey Ferris.

1985-6: Oliver! presented by the Baxter Theatre starring Henry Goodman as Fagin and Marilyn Bennett as Nancy, with Peter Krummeck, Joey Wishnia, Aubrey Ellis, Brenda Wood, Lionel Newton, Don Maguire and others, opening 7 December 1985. Direction and design by Michael Burke, musical direction by Peter McLea.

1994: Oliver! presented by the Playhouse Company opening 9 December at the Natal Playhouse directed by Murray McGibbon. Musical direction was by Lykele Temmingh, choreography by Mark Hawkins, set design by Rod Smith, costume design by Neil Stuart-Harris, lighting design by Joe Freedman. Stage manager Pam Eales. The large cast included Clive Scott, Brenda Radloff and Jamie Bartlett.

2004: Oliver presented by the Young Performers Project at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, directed by Themi Venturas, with 45 young performers. Sponsored by Unilever.



"Barnett, C. Z. (Charles Zachary)", WorldCat Identities[8]


Transcript version of the original 1838 text of the Barnett dramatization, TheatreArtsPress.com (2015)[9]


D.C. Boonzaier, 1923. "My playgoing days – 30 years in the history of the Cape Town stage", in SA Review, 9 March and 24 August 1932. (Reprinted in Bosman 1980: pp. 374-439.)

F.C.L. Bosman. 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1912. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp.343, 347



Brian Brooke Company theatre programme (undated).

Oliver! theatre programme, Baxter Theatre 1985.

Playhouse Parade Dec 1994-January 1995.

Petru & Carel Trichardt theatre programme collection.


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