Despite having auditioned 4,000 urchins already for Fagin's gang and the workhouse boys, Sam Mendes, the director, said he had yet to find the elusive character of the Dodger, played by Jack Wilde in the film version of Lionel Bart's musical.
'He's got to be a young boy with the air of an old man,' said Mr Mendes. 'He's a joker, a show-off and streetwise. He's lived a life of thieving and hard drinking but still retains some of his innocence.'
The new production, which opens at the London Palladium for previews on 15 November with Jonathan Pryce playing Fagin, will have new dialogue and music added by Mr Bart, the author of the show.
'This is going to be a different, darker production than the original in 1960,' Mr Bart said. 'It's much more dangerous and menacing, because of the present time's attitude towards villainy.'
Most auditionees, who had to look between 10 and 14, were old pros, travelling from as far as Aberdeen. Adam Goodwin and Jonathan Francis from Northampton considered themselves in with a chance.
'I've been in Chaplin and I'm very ambitious. I made my mum let me do the audition,' said Adam. 'We'd both like fame - and the time off school.'
Most already had an agent. Daniel Medlock, 14, from Chingford, explained that he had tried to move through the ranks of amateur dramatics. 'Amateur work doesn't get you anywhere - you have to be spotted,' he said. 'My agent can get me auditions for shows and adverts and that's how you get on.'
Ram Corbin, 15, from Chelsea, reckoned he had made about pounds 8,000 from his career already: 'I've been in Little Napoleons, The Bill, London's Burning, Crime Monthly. I've spent some of it on trainers and jeans, but I'm going to save from now on for when I buy a house.'
But Laura Hutchins was not happy. Her nine-year-old brother, Thomas, had gone in for his audition and she was left to sit outside.
'I asked them if they wanted any girls but they didn't,' she sulked. 'It's not fair.'
(Photograph omitted)Reuse content