The audience takes their seat in a dimly lit room, as a figure lies still on the floor. It is Fagin the miser, from Oliver Twist, in his cell just one hour before his execution. This unique concept examines a famous villain from a new perspective, considering the concepts of fear, humanity, and anger at society.
It seems impossible to humanise a villain as notorious as Fagin, and yet this is exactly what Fagin's Last Hour achieves. Fagin's anger and ramblings exposes some thought-provoking questions: what would his fate have been, if only he'd been born into high society? Do those left to fend for themselves deserve punishment for simply trying to survive?
Of course, Fagin's actions cannot be brushed off, but his anger stems from a very real issue, which James Hyland brings to light. As he retells the story that led him to the prison cell, he argues that most men are thieves in some way, and that in a capitalist society, his fate as a poor man in a rich city had already been sealed.
It was not only the message of the play that was powerful and cleverly executed; the acting brought the play to life in a darkly fascinating way.
James Hyland has a powerful ability to portray numerous characters, bringing each one to life through voice and physicality. Nancy, Bill Sykes, and Artful Dodger are all observed through the eyes and body of Fagin, though at times it felt like they were truly in the room. When one actor can emulate an entire cast, that is a powerful thing! His staging of Nancy's murder by Bill Sykes was bone-chilling, and evoked emotions in the audience in a way that often even TV and cinema cannot, despite their use of special effects. His acting was raw, honest, and profound.
This was a brilliantly executed re-imagining of Charles Dickens's tale, shining a spotlight on a single villain, and giving him a dark but honest story of his own.
You can see Fagin's Last Hour at the White Bear Theatre until January 21st!