Dickens' play in Prague: dedicated cast - but lacklustertext - leave feeling of opportunity lost

Since Stepping Out began last year we've tried to profile some of the most interesting and attractive venues in Prague - as well as the acts that play them. This week I decided to concentrate above all on the act. An evening performance by English-language theatre troupe TNT - a new production of Charles Dickens' famous Oliver Twist, arriving for eighteen performances.

Charles Dickens
The London-based organisation is no stranger to Prague, and I must admit, the idea of seeing a play in English for the first time in a while was enticing, even if it was in a theatre outside the city centre. TNT has built up quite a following here - they are much-respected for instance by schools all over the country, and their show this time have once again sold-out.

There is good reason for that. One, the actors are very hard-working and dedicated - and two, the productions are produced in English with foreign audiences in mind, excellent for both students and adults alike. Simply put, there is a lot to be said for a programme which counts on 400 students filling the theatre and hearing English on the stage for perhaps the first time ever.

From the opening seconds the five-member cast kicked-off vibrant individual performances that seemed to promise an Oliver Twist we hadn't seen before.

There were slapstick shenanigans...


and even some carefully strung moments with piqued emotional intensity.

Particularly convincing was Lindsay Clarke as the meek and innocent Oliver.

And especially exciting was Mary Wells, who brought a nonchalant and playful swagger to her portrayal of the Artful Dodger.

The male leads were however more a bit more questionable, the actor playing Fagin falling all too often into predictable declamation. Meanwhile, another actor's excellent range was decidedly hampered by cheap attempts at humor, such as the sputtering of soup on the audience, funny for the 12-year-olds, but that's about it. It's a far-cry from the critical approach to the classics we are promised in the playbill.

In fact, if there is fault with the production, blame the direction and blame the writing, an adaptation by Paul Stebbings and Paul Smith, which provide little more than card-board cut-outs from Charles Dickens'classic, with little innovation. Yes, we know Oliver will be kidnapped, yes we know that he will abused. That's all there. But where is the greater social relevance? And how does it tie in with today? On a matchstick-bare stage, which doesn't help, in a play that relies all too often on cabaret elements, this can only be 'light' entertainment. The problem is that the humor is hardly refined; an actor running with a bush to depict a moving landscape is a tired gag at best.

Perhaps I am being too harsh, considering English will be the 2nd language for many viewers - it clearly has significance when one puts it in perspective with the schools and young people that visit. However, more demanding theatre-goers will find themselves wishing they could have seen the actors in anything else. Even playing a tap-dancing cat or a zombie, as the good-natured Ms Clarke has. It's too bad. It's unfortunate that such dedicated actors shoud be hamstringed by mediocre directing and unimaginative text.