Blackpool Grand Theatre stars in the new BBC series, Dodger

Christopher Eccleston as Fagin with some of the young cast of Dodger

Christopher Eccleston as Fagin with some of the young cast of Dodger - Credit: BBC/NBC Universal International Studios

Blackpool’s Grand Theatre features in an exciting episode of the new BBC and NBC Universal International Studios children’s drama Dodger. 

The first five episodes of the prequel to the classic Charles Dickens tale are now on BBC iPlayer. 

The ‘boisterous and amusing drama’, which is currently trending on BBC iPlayer, is a CBBC production and is an Oliver Twist spin-off (produced by NBCUniversal International Studios) and conceals nothing of the squalid shortages of a 19th century life as a young child. 

The ten-part family adventure series stars Christopher Eccleston (The A Word, The Leftovers) as Fagin and David Threlfall (Shameless, Housewife, 49) as Chief of Police, Sir Charles Rowan. Playing Dodger is Billy Jenkins (The Crown) with Saira Choudhry (Life, No Offence) as Nancy. 

Filming of the series took place across the North West, including Blackpool’s iconic Victorian Grand Theatre. Filming there took place while the theatre was closed as a performance venue during Covid-19. 

Blackpool's beautiful Grand Theatre

Blackpool's beautiful Grand Theatre - Credit: Sean Conboy

Blackpool Grand chief executive, Ruth Eastwood, said: ‘The timing of the filming was vital to the theatre and really helped towards the theatre’s running costs while closed.’ 

Dodger was created and written by Emmy award-winning Rhys Thomas and Lucy Montgomery, with Charlie Higson guest writing an episode. Rhys Thomas also directs alongside Hildegard Ryan. 

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Salford-born Christopher Eccleston said: ‘I'd worked with the creators, Rhys Thomas and Lucy Montgomery, on a couple of other smaller productions and I think they're brilliant writers, brilliant people. I love the fact they bring, what I describe as a contemporary energy, which we don't traditionally see in more period pieces. They come from a world of comedy and I think that is what will appeal to audiences as it is a slightly irreverent approach to the genre. 

‘As a child, as much as I adored the films, I wasn’t that interested in Oliver Twist. Because of my council estate background, I always wanted to know what happened to Fagin and the kids and how they survived. Rhys and Lucy have taken those characters and created a whole new set of back stories. Through Fagin and the gang, they look at the reality of what it was like to be the underclass in Dickensian London.’ 

And Rhys Thomas, creator, writer, director and executive producer said: 'I would describe Dodger as an historical comedy adventure series for the whole family. It is funny, dramatic, sometimes sad but, the main thing is, it moves very quickly. 

‘It's a very fast paced action-adventure series with a lot of laughs. It takes familiar characters and gives them a new life within its own original story. I don't know what Charles Dickens would think, but we've created our own backstory for these characters.' 

Billy Jenkins as Dodger. He's previously appeared in The Crown

Billy Jenkins as Dodger. He's previously appeared in The Crown - Credit: BBC/NBC Universal International Studios

Ruth Eastwood added: ‘We were delighted to be approached by the production company and the director, from the moment they arrived in our venue they were delighted with the setting, and even wanted to change how scenes were filmed to fit with the venue.’ 

Among the highlights at the Grand this season are George Orwell’s Animal Farm and Michael Morpurgo’s Private Peaceful. The theatre will also see the return of distinguished children’s companies Northern Ballet (with Pinocchio) and Birmingham Stage Company with David Walliams’ hit Gangsta Granny. 

The cast also includes Sam C Wilson (Hanna) as Bill Sikes, Tanya Reynolds (Sex Education) as Queen Victoria, Lucy Montgomery (Disenchantment) as Fagin’s landlady, Minnie Bilge, and Frances Barber (Medici) as theatrical dame, Eliza Vestris. Javone Prince (Horrible Histories) plays inept copper PC Blathers and Rhys Thomas (The Fast Show, Brian Pern) takes an on-screen role as his partner PC Duff. 

Dodger can be streamed as a boxset via BBC iPlayer