Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, adapted by Nigel Bryant

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BBC Radio 7, 31 October - 5 December 2009
Spread in half-hourly episodes over six Saturdays, this version transformed the novel into a series of two or three-person dialogues involving a gallery of grotesques. As a result characterization took precedence over Dickens' social commentary. In the first episode, for instance, we took pleasure in Pam Ferris' rich, booming voice as Mrs. Mann, which rose to a crescendo whenever she was angry. By comparison Roger Hulme's Mr. Bumble seemed almost mild-mannered, even in the famous sequence where Oliver Twist (Edward Long) asked for more food. Rather than shouting the line "More?!!!" Hulme repeated it in an astonished whisper, almost as if he could not believe what the little boy had said. This proved a far more effective means of imposing his authority over the boys: no one dared to say anything, mostly out of shame.
Later on in the adaptation, we were introduced to a Fagin (John Grillo) who was nothing more than a coward; although more than willing to impose his authority over the boys, he was petrified of Bill Sikes (Tim McInnerny). McInnerny's characterization proved especially chilling; normally associated with more benign roles (for example, Captain Darling in Blackadder Goes Forth) the actor invested the part with latent violence, that boiled over into open assault when he realized that Nancy (Adjoah Andoh) had double-crossed him. Nancy's death-scene proved so unpleasant - with the two actors' voices rising to a crescendo, followed by one or two thuds and the sound of Sikes' dog whimpering - that the Radio 7 announcer was prompted to warn listeners beforehand about the potentially violent material.
In the final episode order was restored: Sikes' violent tones were superseded by the calm, reassuring voice of Peter Jeffrey as Brownlow. In this adaptation he became something of a deus ex machina figure, convinced that right would prevail, despite the fact that both Fagin and Sikes were on the run. He was eventually proved right: Fagin's cowardice was exposed, and Sikes met an unfortunate demise, the victim of an unexpected accident. Brownlow reported the news with satisfaction to Oliver. In this adaptation it seemed somehow right that Brownlow should turn out to be Oliver's father; in Jeffrey's performance, the old man had all the right attributes of a father-figure.
Nigel Bryant's adaptation (he also directed) was distinguished by such performances, proving beyond doubt that Dickens possessed a unique ability to create memorable characters.