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Arts & Culture

Ashland Review: Fingersmith

Photo by Jenny Graham, Oregon Shakespeare Festival



by Dorothy Velasco

March 24, 2015

“Fingersmith,” the acclaimed Victorian crime novel by Sarah Waters, has been described as “Oliver Twist with a twist.”

In the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s new stage adaptation, we see more twisting than Chubby Checker ever dreamed of.

And I would never dream of giving away those twists, just in case you haven’t read the book, a page-turner of nearly 600 pages.

If a play had pages, “Fingersmith” the play would also be a page-turner, faithful to the book but compressed. Although it runs three hours you won’t be bored. You’ll be too intrigued by the complicated conniving of petty thieves, and the despicable activities of the wealthy.

You’ll meet two unusual young women whose lives are mysteriously intertwined. Sue is an orphan raised by the shrewd Mrs. Sucksby and trained as a fingersmith — a pickpocket.

Maud is a rich young orphan living at her uncle’s gloomy country estate. She will inherit her dead mother’s fortune once she marries.

That’s where a thief known as Gentleman comes in. Maud needs a new lady’s maid, and Gentleman wants Sue to take the job and soften her up to his advances.

Director Bill Rauch has clearly had fun creating the unsavory underworld of the novel as adapted by screenwriter Alexa Junge. The plot covers over 20 years but with the help of Christopher Acebo’s ingenious set design, the action flows smoothly.

All along we learn fascinating facts about Victorian England, especially about the restrictive lives of women both high and low. For a lady, just getting dressed in constraining undergarments required the labor of a sturdy lady’s maid.

The acting is a pleasure and the portrayals constantly surprise us as each layer comes off the tricky characters like layers of Victorian undergarments.

Sara Bruner is rough and appealing as the foul-mouthed Sue. As Maud, Erica Sullivan’s cool exterior conceals her seething innards. Kate Mulligan’s Mrs. Sucksby is a crafty manipulator, and Elijah Alexander is seductive as Gentleman.

“Fingersmith” is not a show for young children, so find a babysitter and go have a good time in the gritty underworld.

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