The theatre is cold and dark. The atmosphere is desolate. A lone man is lying prone on the floor in the centre of a cell delineated by a straw boundary with only a single wooden bench within it. The cold draught that wafts through the open doors adds to the atmosphere of a dark, damp and cold prison cell. It’s a simple yet effective set. Even his drab costume of dirty and torn woollen rags is perfect in its Victorian austerity.
This is indeed Isaac Fagin’s last hour before he is led to the gallows. And we are privileged to be the voyeurs of his musings, as he suddenly rises in a fit of anxiety, knowing his time is drawing to a close. For those who have read or watched Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist the sequence of events that have led to Fagin’s predicament will be well known. And if you haven’t, then the monologue which follows paints the picture in vivid detail. If you are a purist, brace yourself for some minor artistic edits to some of the events. But on the whole, it is true to the storyline and the adaptations do not detract from the performance. Rather they serve to enhance Fagin’s frenzy.
This is a fabulous one man show. James Hyland as Fagin brings to life the Dickensian villain spectacularly. He walks the audience through a flashback of events that brought the character to this point in his life, book-ended with short scenes and the verdict from the court room. We are sat riveted to every word as he moves around the delineated prison cell like a caged animal. Using dramatic gestures, depth and tone of voice he transforms before our very eyes into multiple characters.
All the usual suspects are there for the audience’s delectation including the Artful Dodger, Sikes and Nancy. Hyland masterfully switches between each character with such ease that the audience hardly notices it. Without even a word, but just a signature pose, the audience knows exactly who is in the room at any given time. Interestingly, Oliver, though occasionally mentioned, is not one of those portrayed.
The lighting is simple but effective, only enhancing the more intense scenes such as Nancy’s death. Yet without it the emotions and sound effects projected by Hyland would still be powerful enough to stand on their own. As the hour draws nearer, and his story comes to a frenzied end, he begs and pleads for mercy and understanding. He is sure that the hour spent justifying his deeds would turn even the coldest of hearts.
‘We are all thieves…even you sir’ — Fagin claims, pointedly looking at one man in the audience, then turning to another to deny any wrongdoing and justifying his innocence right before he is dragged away from his cell. And really the audience is hard pressed not to feel something for the rogue. This is a riveting performance that will linger for much longer than an hour!
Adapted by: James Hyland
Based on the novel ‘Oliver Twist’ by Charles Dickens
Directed by: Phil Lowe
Produced by: Brother Wolf
Music: Chris Warner
Fagin’s Last Hour plays at White Bear Theatre until 21 January 2021. Further information and bookings can be found here.