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If Oliver Twist was a domestic worker in modern day Bangladesh

  • Published at 06:37 pm August 9th, 2019
Aleya Twist
Poster of Aleya Twist | Collected

Stories like these can help propel social change by starting a dialogue

“Rule number 1 - the lift is prohibited 

Servants' vile odour lingers inside it

Rule number 2 - no rest night and day

Stand on your toes for a summon anyway

Rule number 3 - during summertime, 

Using a fan is forbidden

During all seasons opening a fridge forbidden

Sitting on a chair forbidden,

Appearing before guests forbidden

You are a servant this is the main reason

Eat seated on the ground, sleep on the floor

My child is older than you for sure

Tidy his toys, don't just stand there anymore!” 

Aleya’s employer recites the strict rules she must follow to earn her “privileges” as a domestic worker.She should eat and sleep on the floor, never play or rest under the ceiling fan- the list goes on. Expelled from her orphanage for demanding more food, Aleya chooses this life over going back to the undertaker on the streets of Dhaka. 

British Council, in collaboration with Komola Collective, staged the play Aleya Twist in Dhaka and Tangail from August 5-7. The young performers were chosen from the English and Digital for Girls’ Education (EDGE) Clubs of Tangail & BRAC. Even without any previous training in acting, the youngsters commendably portrayed characters from Charles Dickens’ classic in the contemporary context of Bangladesh.

Writer Leesa Gazi of Komola Collective told Dhaka Tribune Showtime that the face of poverty, discrimination towards poor people, mistreatment of child workers- haven’t changed since the time of Oliver Twist two centuries ago.Told from a female perspective, the 10-year-old orphanin her adaptationbegs and steals to survive the streets of present day Dhaka. 

“We believe we can change the society through art,” Leesa said. “So our productions focus on issues and challenge social taboos.

The story was so well adapted to our culture, one would have never guessed it was directed by a British. Theatre artist Filiz Ozcan overcame the language barrier with the help of interpreter, Abdullah Al Mamun. She said how child workers arevulnerable to exploitation, especially young girls, inspired her to tell this story. This is the fifth time she is visiting Bangladesh.

“There is an incredible pool of talent here, she said. “Very hardworking, dedicated and patient. I loved it.”

Aleya Twist wasn’t a musical like the Oscar winning 1968 movie Oliver!, but it had a number of songs beautifully performed by assistant director Andra Chelsea. Ritu Akter played the titular role, while the ensemble cast of Brishti Roy, Chandrabati Evalochon, Mitu Rahman, Sharif Siraj, Lochon Palash, Mehmud Siddique, and so on, each played several characters changing costumes every few scenes. 

The play was a good example of making an adaptation unique.The dialogues were spare and each character had its own voice. It had a distinctly different scene sequencing from its predecessors. Once you have read the book, seen Roman Polanski’s rendition, along with several other brilliant retellings, it can be a very difficult task for a writer to come out of those shadows. Leesa did a brilliant job at making her version stand out. 

Stories like these can help propel social change by starting a dialogue. If we are frequently reminded of the abuse children face at orphanages, on the streets and at work, we might one day be compelled to take action. Then maybe at a future production of Aleya Twist, domestic workers will also fill some seats at the Experimental Theatre Hall.  

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