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Playbill for 'Oliver Twist! Or the Parish Boy's Progress' by George Almar at Davidge's Royal Surrey Theatre, 1838



Object number (per part)

DH780, 2019.5.201

Object name (per part)


Production person

Davidge, George Bolwell
Almar, George


Playbill for George Almar's adaptation of 'Oliver Twist’ titled ‘Oliver Twist! Or a Parish Boy's Progress', which was performed at George Bolwell Davidge's Royal Surrey Theatre in 1838. Almar's name does not appear as playwright on the playbill. The playbill provides the cast list, a synopsis of the scenes and it divides these into 3 Acts that roughly match the 3 volumes of the novel. The cast featured Almar himself as Toby Crackit. Although 'Miss France' was cast as the 'young pauper' 'Little Dick', Davidge bucked the tradition of casting a woman for the role of Dickens's young heroes by choosing 'Master Owen' for Oliver instead. Reviews of his performance were not favourable, as is made clear by the short piece in 'The Examiner', 25 November 1838. Master Young, as Noah Claypole appears to have struck audiences far more favourably. John Forster claimed that when he and Charles Dickens saw the production in late 1838, Dickens found the performance so unbearable that he lay down on the floor of his box in the middle of the first scene and remained there for the rest of the performance.

Other number

MNP9 (temporary Charles Dickens Museum number)

Acqusition history

Previously in a private collection in the USA. Purchased by the Dickens Museum in 2019.

Physical description

Primary support- thin cream Western wove paper
Media- black printing ink and pencil

Object history note

George Almar's ‘Oliver Twist!’ premiered at Davidge's Royal Surrey Theatre on 19th November 1838, 10 days after Richard Bentley published the 3-volume first edition of Dickens's Oliver Twist on 9th November 1838. The novel continued to be serialised in Bentley's Miscellany until April 1839. By 19th November, readers of the serialisation had only got as far as Book the Third, Chapter the Fifth which concludes with the Artful Dodger entertaining the onlookers and the Magistrates at Bow Street.

Chapman & Hall published Almar's text of the play as part of its acting edition series, Websters Acting National Drama. Oliver Twist: a serio-comic burletta in three acts: as performed at the Royal Surrey Theatre. Correctly printed from the prompter's copy by George Almar, comedian; illustrated with an etching, by Pierce Egan the younger, from a drawing taken during the representation.

There had already been two adaptations of Oliver Twist based on earlier instalments of Dickens's unfinished novel. The first, a burletta by Gilbert À Beckett, had been performed at St James's on 27th March 1838 after only 12 instalments had appeared in Bentley's Miscellany and reviews suggest that it was greeted with hisses and boos (Actors by Daylight 31 March 1838). The manuscript for this early adaptation is held at the British Library: LORD CHAMBERLAIN'S PLAYS. Vol. LXXXI (ff. 821). Jan.-April 1838. (25) 'Oliver Twist', by G. A. À Beckett. ff. 683-707 b. The second ‘Oliver Twist’ adaptation, described as 'Oliver Twist, a Domestic Burletta in 3 Acts', was written by C. Z. Barnett and played at the Pavilion 21-28 May 1838. This was written before the ending of the novel had been published and it concluded with the 'Death of Monks!'

Almar's version was the first to be able to draw on Dickens's complete text for the plot of his adaptation and it was swiftly followed by a rival version by Edward Stirling called 'Boz's Oliver Twist' (City of London, 3 / 17 December 1838).

According to Charles Dickens's friend, John Forster, Dickens saw Almar's adaptation probably at some point in December 1838. Recalling his activities in late November 1838, Forster wrote: 'I was with him at a representation of his Oliver Twist the following month at the Surrey-theatre, when in the middle of the first scene he laid himself upon the floor in the corner of the box and never rose from it until the drop-scene fell'. (John Forster, The Life of Charles Dickens (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 188[?], p. 48).

The date of this playbill - Monday 3rd December 1838 - represents the 8th night of the play's performance at the Surrey but internal evidence of the playbill indicates that it may have been the 12th or 13th performance. Davidge claims that 'Nearly Forty Thousand Persons' have already seen it by this time.

The playbill mentions 'Rich Man of Frankfort or the Poisoned Crown' as the Afterpiece. This piece was Thomas H. Reynoldson's translated adaptation of "Samuel le Marchand" by Adolphe Lemoine-Montigny - an actor manager and playwright of the Paris Théâtre du Gymnase - and Henri Horace Meyer. It featured actors playing Sikes, Fagin, Bumble and Mrs Bumble from Almar's Oliver Twist doing double-service in the afterpiece.

The playbill refers to music by J. M. Jolly, who provided incidental music to keep the minor theatres such as the Adelphi and Surrey on the right side of theatre law. Little of Jolly's work has survived although the V & A has an engraving of one of his ballads, 'Those Bright Blue Eyes' (Accession no. S.4509-2013).

The playbill mentions Scenery 'from the Etchings' used to adorn the novel by 'the talented George Cruikshank' but it also specifies that 'Mr Brunnings' has produced some Scenery 'Made on the Spot' for the production. William Allen Brunnings (1818-1850) arrived as an apprentice scene painter at the Surrey in 1835 and remained with the theatre even after Davidge's death in 1842 when his widow took over the theatre's management. He later exhibited landscape paintings - particularly maritime scenes that drew on his experience of painting scenes for nautical melodramas - at the Royal Academy every year between 1840-1850.

Credit line

Purchased with support from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, Art Fund, Friends of the National Libraries and the Dickens Fellowship.
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