Book, Music & Lyrics: Lionel Bart
Director: Laurence Connor
Reviewer: Kathryn M. Bartlett
The Public Reviews Rating:
From the second the cast of over fifty takes to the stage, you are swept away to murky, misty Victorian London, intriguing idiosyncratic characters and the plight of poor orphan Oliver.
The high energy opening number Food, Glorious Food by the Plymouth Workhouse Kids is a polished performance with strong vocals, clear diction, synchronised smart choreography, and great fun; this sets the tone for rest of this amazing show.
Impressive sets on a grand scale are swiftly and unobtrusively moved; our environment morphing between convincing hustling bustling London streets to the dark underworld of Fagin’s backstreet lair and home of his gang of child-thieves.
Oliver (on this occasion Sebastian Croft) truly shines, especially in the solo Where Is Love. Completely mesmerising, his pitch-perfect sweet earnest ballad, set against subtle lighting, has you totally transfixed and gives you goosebumps, it is so believable and emotive.
Cat Simmons as Nancy supplies an equally poignant, engaging performance as she pours her character’s heart out, with a wonderful tone and clarity singing the heart-wrenching As Long As He Needs Me. The character’s painful internal wrestle of feelings associated with her abusive lover Bill Sykes (Iain Fletcher) are clearly visible and the audience are left in no doubt of the inextricable battle between her unavoidable entwined emotions of love and hate for him. Simply astounding.
Simmons is equally adept and captivating when leading the second-half ensemble ‘knees-up’ piece, Oom-Pah-Pah, which offers the audience a welcome opportunity to throw themselves into the mix and to sing and dance along.
As we are taken through Oliver’s journey from an orphan on the wrong side of the tracks, to the grandson of a well-to-do gentleman (warmly played by Stephen Moore), the audience are transported to a myriad of inspiring scenes and settings. Set against this backdrop are the numerous well-known and loved songs, that despite being familiar, are performed with such verve and voracity that they are given a three-dimensional profundity and richness that makes them feel fresh and new; the real, true voice of the characters leaping out of the stage.
Daniel Huttlestone (at this performance) plays the Artful Dodger with all the charm, swagger and cheek that you would hope for. He is as accomplished a dancer as his character is a natty dresser, and especially showcases this talent when welcoming Oliver to the gang in cheery Consider Yourself.
Iain Fletcher is powerful and convincing as the menacing, murderous thief; the yin to Nancy’s yang, Bill Sykes. He plays the role with a commanding authority, yet subtle depth that implies a deep persona that has no bounds within the realms of evil and despair. Despite his character’s dark personality and agenda, Fletcher similarly suits the comedic banter between Sykes and Fagin (Brian Conley) that arise when the two are dealing in their ill-gotten gains.
Fagin’s complexity of character in that of predator and guardian is deftly executed by Brian Conley and he is charismatic and suitably amusing as the eccentric, wily gang leader that despite his dubious activities and lifestyle is enchanting and somewhat endearing. Reviewing The Situation is a delightful performance that captures the attention and showcases Conley’s excellent vocals; supported with an outstanding presentation of the score by the orchestra.
Excellent moments of light-relief from the scenes with more gravitas are delivered by the overtly comedic pairings of Mr & Mrs Bumble (Jack Edwards and Clare Machin respectively); and that of the dark Tim-Burton-esque comedy of Mr & Mrs Sowberry (David Langham & CJ Johnson respectively).
Throughout the show, every attention to detail has been paid to set, costume, sound, lighting, choreography and direction; which provides a fully-rounded, consuming quality show that is wholly brilliant. There is always something in every corner of the stage to captivate, and catch the eye. A lively rousing visual and atmosphere is smoothly juxtaposed with sometimes shocking, violent actions; dark undercurrents and sombre mood. Your heart is with every character as they take the stage; and you feel every sadness, fear, and anxiety, just as you do each second of love, warmth and euphoria, along with them.
Oliver! has something for everyone, exemplified by an audience that ranges in age from eight to eighty. Go, see it now! You’ll love it.
Runs until 8th September 2012.Oliver! - Theatre Royal, Plymouth,
Tags: Brian Conley, Cameron Mackintosh, Cat Simmons, Charles Dickens, CJ Johnson, Claire Machin, Daniel Huttlestone, David Langham, iain fletcher, Jack Edwards, Kathryn M. Bartlett, Laurence Connor, LIONEL BART, oliver, Plymouth, Plymouth Theatre Royal, Sebastian Croft, Stephen Moore