Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens is hailed as the first English novel that examined society’s mistreatment of its orphans and underprivileged children.
The British Council in collaboration with Komola Collective has embarked upon a project to explore this celebrated English novel set in the context of present-day Bangladesh. The characters of this retelling emerge in a setting nearly two hundred years after and many thousands of miles away from the original story. However, the difference in time and place have not eased the harsh reality that the original Oliver had to face.
Oliver Twist was published nearly two hundred years ago but not much has changed in our own attitudes toward the treatment of the poor and young. Child trafficking, sexual abuse and the rape of children and child labor are still widespread in our society. Underprivileged and vulnerable children continue to fall prey to criminals and sexual predators. Our failure to ensure a safe, healthy and loving life for all children has robbed the childhood of countless numbers of them. If one of the markers of the progress of humanity is measured by the wellbeing of our children, as it should be, then we have failed miserably. The story of Oliver Twist still rings devastatingly true for many children everywhere. Sadly, most of their real-life stories do not have the happy ending that Oliver had.
We wish to enable social change through the arts by retelling this classic tale, focusing primarily on vulnerable communities. We are delighted to have the opportunity to create a play with a group of underprivileged girls and professional actors in partnership with the British Council. In our version, the protagonist, Aleya, is a girl who is expelled from the orphanage and sent to work as a domestic servant. She is only ten years old. A happy, innocent child, she tries to enjoy household jobs and to settle into her new home as a lowly servant girl. But she faces cruelty and mistreatment at the hands of her employers and finally runs away. Not knowing where to go, Aleya is brought to Dhaka city by a boy who turns out to be one of a gang of pickpockets and thieves trained by a wicked man. She is forced to steal but never considers herself to be a thief. Aleya’s thirst for life is irresistible. She meets every predicament with hope and, like Oliver Twist, miraculously turns it better with love and dignity.
This project will be directed by Filiz Ozcan, one of the co-owners of Komola Collective. The entire cast and crew have been recruited from local theatre groups and the young actors are recruited through our EDGE clubs in Tangail. The whole team will be working in Madhupur, Tangail for rehearsal and their first show. This three-week project will end with three theatre shows including multiple shows in Dhaka.