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It is one of the most beloved scenes in literature; a score of boys wan and ragged, chant a monotonous grace in the bare kitchen of a 19th century workhouse. In the flickering candlelight the boys wolf down their thin gruel.
This is no ordinary night. This is the night when the smallest and the most pathetic of the workhouse boys, Oliver Twist, dares to leave his place and timidly, bowl in hand, says to the bullying beadle, Mr Bumble, the immortal words, "Please Sir I want some more".
Oliver has committed a most grievous crime. The only answer for the sake of discipline is banishment, and so Oliver is sold.
Mr Sowerberry, the Undertaker, buys Oliver for five pounds. He endures vicious treatment at the hands of Noah Claypole, an assistant. Escapes to London and meets the artful Dodger who introduces him to Fagin, a wily old Jew who runs a training establishment for pickpockets. Oliver and Dodger are turned loose into the streets of London to pick the pockets of the "Gentry". Oliver gets caught trying to steal a wallet and would certainly have been hung had not been for the intervention of Mr Brownlow, who befriends Oliver.
True to the master storyteller Charles Dickens, many other characters appear in the musical. Nancy, a brazen hussy, has a soft spot for Oliver. Bill Sykes, a true villain, eventually kills Nancy. Fagin survives for another day. As in most Dickens' stories, in the end good triumphs over evil and Oliver is restored to a happy home.
Oliver is one of the great smash hits of the modern musical theatre. It is just as popular today as when it was first written. Lionel Bart, its composer has left us with an outstanding theatrical masterpiece.
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