Fagin's Last Hour
Cramphorn Theatre, Chelmsford
Tuesday 23rd October 2012
As the audience enters we are met with a wretched figure asleep on the stage. In the small square lined with piles of straw and furnished with a single wooden stool, the oppressive ambience generated before the performance begins draws us into the cell in which Fagin is being held.
Woken by the chime of the church clock, we learn that Fagin awaits the arrival of the justice bestowed upon him for his life of crime. The hangman is due in an hour, and the terrified villain of Charles Dicken's Oliver Twist proceeds to take us through the story of his arrival in the prison cell. The familiar tale unfolds through the eyes of "the Jew", from the arrival of young Oliver Twist, his adoption by Mr Brownlow, kidnapping and subsequent return by Nancy and brutally Bill Sykes' ultimate revenge for her betrayal.
In this one-man show, Fagin is brought vividly and chillingly to life by James Hyland. His costuming and make-up are pitched perfectly, depicting the social standing of this shady character with faultless attention to detail. Through immaculately stylised movements, Hyland morphs into the other characters in the story, and with nothing but his masterful physicality and excellent vocal flexibility each of the roles takes individual shape in the enrapt minds of the audience. Captivating to the point of inducing complete silence throughout the auditorium, Hyland is an exquisitely skilful storyteller.
The stage was lit simply, with dingy enough white spots to produce the unnerving ambience but also light enough to pick out the detail in facial expressions. Most effective however was the fading up to total red floods during the ferocious murder of Nancy, and again at Fagin's own death. Coupled with the simple but effective stage design, each production element complimented the performance entirely.
The Cramphorn Theatre lends itself to this style of production, and the flexible space could have easily allowed for even more intimacy to be evoked through laying out the studio in the round. Truly engaged as the audience so utterly were however, there is nothing to fault in this immaculate production. After the excellent A Christmas Carol - As told by Jacob Marley (Deceased) last Christmas, and Fagin's Last Hour this autumn, I very much hope another popular tale is in line for a Brother Wolf adaptation next year.