While the trials of one Oliver Twist, an orphan boy on the streets of 19th-century London, may seem pretty detached from the Parksville Qualicum Beach area, local history certainly brings the story closer to home.
While talking about the shortened version of Oliver Twist that he’s bringing to schools and the public this March, director Julian Packer mentions that Coombs, founded by the Salvation Army, was originally a settling place for those living tough lives in Britain’s overpacked cities.
Though Coombs began as a place to find new homes and get a new start, the area at large is now dealing with its own homelessness issues. Packer’s play, made up of local amateur actors and being presented for free in schools and as a Salvation Army fundraiser at Errington hall and the Village Theatre, looks to put emphasis on homelessness and the plight of the hungry.
“I think Parksville Qualicum Beach does a good job of helping the homeless,” he said. “This is in addition to that. What can we do to help?”
What he and a pack of about 20 people ranging in age from nine to 77 have done is prepared a shortened version of the Oliver Twist musical aimed at an elementary school-aged audience.
The production, called Dickens of a Twist, starts off in one of Charles Dickens’ other novels — A Christmas Carol — with Tiny Tim celebrating a birthday only to find Mr. Scrooge arrive with the gift of Oliver Twist scripts, which the partygoers then perform.
“We’ve had a lot of fun putting this together,” said Packer, who’s drawn together a creative group of friends, families and more seasoned actors to the project.
Ian Morton, having recently performed in ECHO Players’ production of Hilda’s Yard, gave high praise to the director, while adding part of the experience has been having a little to do with every part of the production — from moving speakers to actually performing.
Ashlee Sales, producing and acting in the play, said “I love the idea of going to the schools, bringing plays to the local community, and fundraising. It’s great to use the arts to do good in the community.”
It’s a true family work for Sales, with several members of her family taking part, including two kids who, in addition to acting, choreographed two of the songs.
“We’re very proud of that,” said Packer.
The production has been helped by several organizations, including Errington War Memorial Hall, St. Edmunds and St. Anne’s Church, the Rotary Club of Qualicum Beach, the ECHO Players and the RDN.
Free performances are taking place at several local schools, with a performance at the Village Theatre in Qualicum Beach on March 10 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets for that show are $15 for adults and seniors, $10 for students, and $6 for children 12 and under. The proceeds will go to the Salvation Army. Find tickets at www.echoplayers.ca.
There will also be two performances at Errington hall on March 16 and 17 at 7 p.m. Entry to those shows is by donation to the Salvation Army.