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Oliver Twist

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The Advocate

Oliver Twist Radio Theatre by Charles Dickens

Reviewed by Carol Perrodin

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"I prefer the luscious detail and engaging narration of the original book, but this dramatization allows for easy listening and a painless introduction to an immortal story. Take it on the bus or a long road trip with you."

In our modern rush-rush society, people have less time for books. It’s often more convenient to listen to a dramatization of a worthwhile story rather than tackle the whole book. The team at the venerable Focus on the Family Radio Theater Productions has provided an easy listening edition of Oliver Twist that allows the Dickens fan to get through the story much quicker than reading the voluminous book. Although it is no replacement for the descriptive book, listening to every word of this recording took me only a fraction of the time the book is taking.

In the context of all Focus on the Family audio dramas, Oliver Twist stands above the crowd. It tells the story more smoothly than most of Focus’ Narnia dramatizations. The varied voice cast rarely gets confused, and each actor brings authenticity to their role. The narrator interjects only when necessary. The sound effects complement the scenes, though the most commonly used sound is an opening or closing door. But since most of the action is in the conversations, perhaps there was little that could be done about this.

Listener be warned: this dramatization is abridged despite the absence of such a warning on the case. I was disappointed by the removal of several wonderful scenes. In particular, I missed the young boy at the workhouse to whom Oliver makes an effort to say goodbye. This little lad, Dick, embodies the innocence and vulnerability of the orphans in Oliver’s world. What makes Dick’s story touching is his similarity to Oliver and the fact that he dies alone without ever leaving the workhouse. The absence of such rich minor characters only reminds the listener that this retelling is abridged. Here is an example of the emotional depth that is absent from the dramatization:

[Oliver said] “I shall see you again, Dick. I know I shall! You will be well and happy!”
“I hope so,” replied the child. “After I am dead, but not before. I know the doctor must be right, Oliver, because I dream so much of Heaven, and Angels, and kind faces that I never see when I am awake. Kiss me,” said the child, climbing up the low gate, and flinging his little arms round Oliver’s neck. “Goodbye, dear! God bless you!”
The blessing was from a young child’s lips, but it was the first that Oliver had ever heard invoked upon his head; and through the struggles and sufferings, and troubles and changes, of his after life, he never once forgot it.

The dramatization does not let us dig deeply into the characters and their surroundings because much of Dickens’ inner dialogue gets short-shrift. Relationships and important interactions are simplified.

Will listeners unfamiliar with Oliver Twist’s story be as accepting of this retelling as those who already know it? Is it a good introduction to the story if you want to skip the book? The Focus dramatization will certainly give you a different take on the story. However, if you want to truly experience the story of Oliver Twist in all its depth and character, this production is no substitute for the book. Hopefully, it will encourage new fans to read Dickens.
In the final analysis, I prefer the luscious detail and engaging narration of the original book, but this dramatization allows for easy listening and a painless introduction to an immortal story. Take it on the bus or a long road trip with you. The brilliance of the memorable story will help you overcome the shortcomings and simplicity of this abbreviated audio edition.

On the Special Features:
An accompanying DVD contains a 14-minute behind-the-scenes feature and a 35-minute documentary called “Modern Day Olivers.” The documentary, which lacks a clear thesis, is actually more about the foster care system than about orphans. The main point it seems to be trying to make is that foster children are not criminals but are more often victims of crime. However, the uneven editing style and lack of organization inhibits any clear message. Essentially Focus took Oliver Twist as an opportunity to make an extra feature on a very interesting and important topic, but the video style is rambling and seems to have trouble making a point. Beginning with a connection to Dickens’ story about abandoned children, it quickly transitions into a disorganized collection of interviews. Although it makes some good points and addresses the realities of adoption, it fails as an informative documentary and turns into a jumble of personal stories with the ultimate purpose of encouraging adults to get involved in the foster care system.

At half the documentary’s length, the behind-the-scenes feature provides an interesting, if somewhat discombobulated, look at the making of this dramatization. It shows how the crew made all the sound effects and shows the voice cast perform. Narnia fans may be traumatized to learn that Aslan’s mane was recycled for dog sound effects.

An artist and writer by trade, Carol Perrodin grew up in the company of books, crayons, and pencils. The works of Charles Dickens were some of her biggest writing inspirations, leading her to research and write stories about the underprivileged in society. Carol has almost finished her second novel, Flytrap, and is now attending her third semester at PPCC. She hopes to study art and criminal justice in hopes of entering a law enforcement career. Carol lives in Colorado with her parents and seven creative siblings.