Mackintosh, who controls the licensing rights to the groundbreaking Lionel Bart musical, has lent his support to the first-ever Arab-language presentation of the show, based on Charles Dickens’ exclamation point-free Oliver Twist. The production will run September 1 through 3 at Amman’s Royal Cultural Centre. With Mackintosh’s blessing as well as aid, the show has been updated from 19th-century London to an unnamed modern Arab city, according to Charlotte Eagar, co-founder of Refuge Drama Productions. A film producer and former journalist, Eagar is mounting the show with author William Stirling and co-producer Georgie Page.
The production could not have been timelier, coming in the wake of this week’s horrific discovery of more than 70 refugees, likely from the Middle East, found suffocated in a truck outside Vienna.
The Amman show has been cast with 36 Syrian refugees and under-privileged Jordanian children. The Mackintosh Foundation helped to recruit talent from across the region, including award-winning director and UNICEF goodwill ambassador Khaled Abol Naga, top Egyptian conductor Nayer Nagui and the Walt Disney company’s chief Arabic translator Zeinab Mobarak.
In addition to having produced Cats, The Phantom Of The Opera, Les Misérables (musical and film) and Miss Saigon, among many other shows, Mackintosh is a West End theater landlord and recently became the majority shareholder of the licensing firm Music Theatre International (MTI). “Though Oliver! has continued to be a favorite musical with audiences the world over, I couldn’t imagine a better way of presenting the story of Oliver Twist’s contemporary relevance than this exciting and imaginative production performed by refugees and children who have had an even harder start to life than Oliver himself,” he said, announcing his support of the show.
“Adapting the play to the modern Arab world was the idea of Khaled Abol Naga because the Arab world has many similarities with the social conditions Charles Dickens was writing about,” Eagar told The Jordan Times.
“Amman is the first city that hosts waves of refugees in the region,” Abol Naga said at a press conference in Amman. “We are aiming for an outcome that transforms the refugee and under-privileged children so they become a pride for society.”
The play will be presented in cooperation with the Culture Ministry, and admission is free. Through a spokeswoman in London, Mackintosh said Friday that he would not be able to attend a performance of the show.