As the lights dimmed and the well known opening notes were played, the excited anticipation of the audience was heightened to a palpable level – would the new tour of Oliver! live up to its high expectations? The answer – a resounding yes!
From the moment the bowed and cowed workhouse drudges stepped onto the stage with military precision to the rousing finale, we, the audience were held spellbound!
With seemingly effortless scene changes against breathtakingly, beautiful backdrops we were transported through Victorian London along with the cast, from the soul-destroying workhouse via the gothic funeral parlour to the vibrancy of the market place, from the somehow charming ‘Aladdins cave’ that was the thieves den to the elegance of Mr Brownlow’s residence and the contrasting bawdiness of the Three Cripples Inn. All were totally believable and further enhanced by the excellent lighting skills which added the required level of drama to each scene.
Brian Conley as Fagin was the headline act for this tour, and he did not disappoint, bringing his own style of humour to the role. However his performance could not overshadow the strength and quality of the rest of the cast and the excellent ensemble!
The many children were totally professional, the precision and timing of their performances was superb and yet joyously their individual personalities were allowed to shine through giving realism and a natural quality to the show. Special mention should go to the Artful Dodger (Daniel Huttlestone) Oliver (Sebastian Croft) and little Nipper, who almost stole the show!
Dickensian society was well represented in other characters, from the corpulent greed of the Bumbles to the sinister anticipation of the Sowerberrys and the threatening menace of Bill Sikes. And yet there was good too – the warm and forgiving Brownlows, and of course Nancy – played in this production by Cat Simmons – who battled in spite of the hardships handed out to her bring joy and love to her life and the lives of the others – this was well portrayed bringing tears to the eyes in her performance of As Long As He Needs Me.
The vocal performances were very strong, both in solos and the ensemble numbers. Being so familiar to us it is easy to forget how complicated an arrangement like Who Will Buy? is, but it like all the numbers was beautifully delivered.
It was wonderful to hear the not so familiar songs such as I Shall Scream (Bumbles), That’s Your Funeral (Sowerberrys) and My Name from Bill Sikes sung with the right cocky self-assuredness and aggression necessary to establish the character. The quality of the singing not only moved the story along but also told us so much more about the characters emotions, portraying hopelessness, joy, greed, fear and love.
In complimentary fashion the choreography (originally set by the wonderful Matthew Bourne) was excellent. The boys in Fagin's gang especially looked natural and effortless and like ‘boys’ not ‘dancers’, and the whole Oom Pah Pah! routine in the Three Cripples Inn was realistic, coarse, bawdy and superb!
Everything about this production was brought together beautifully. This timeless classic was still totally fresh and exciting! The audience was captured from the first instance and showed their appreciation of a quality performance with a full house standing ovation at the end – just as it should be!
- Katie-Louise Smaridge