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Oliver! – Curve, Leicester

Music &Lyrics: Lionel Bart

Book: Lionel Bart

Director: Paul Kerryson

Reviewer: Linford Butler


Lionel Bart’s musical version of Dickens’ classic, Oliver Twist, is extremely well-known, not least for the Academy-award winning 1968 film adaptation and its long West End and Broadway runs. Curve’s new community production of Oliver! is performed by an amateur cast plucked from the local community and, while it’s a fairly typical staging of the story, this production is choreographed skilfully, performed enthusiastically and features a fair few standout performances.

Oliver!, the story of the workhouse orphan who runs away to join a band of vagabonds and pickpockets in London, is brought to life by some beautiful vocal deliveries and engaging characterisation from the principal cast. Daniel Cornish, as Oliver, delivers a charming performance and, while perhaps a little too quick on the uptake of lines, does an excellent job of maintaining audience attention. However, in the second half his rôle is somewhat side-lined by the action between Nancy, Bill Sykes and Fagin, where Oliver could be better integrated into scenes, a mistake which gives the final few scenes the feeling of being rushed.

Mary Jean Caldwell as Nancy is superb, with stunning vocal deliveries throughout (As Long As He Needs Me and Oom Pa Pa being particular standout moments) and some wonderful characterisation; her performance brings boundless energy and feistiness, but also a lovely childlike innocence and vulnerability to the rôle. Sean Dodds succeeds in creating a truly frightening presence on stage as the louring, threatening Bill Sykes, with his canine companion Boston cementing the figure of danger that the character represents. Adam Ogrodzinski’s Fagin provides some comedy moments to lighten the mood of some of the darker sections, with consistent characterisation and some well-thought-out vocal deliveries, creating a believable representation of the old miser, albeit one with perhaps a slightly limited range of gesture. However, Ogrodzinski doesn’t quite capture some of the more malevolent aspects of the character, making his Fagin largely a comedy figure.

Dodger’s performance, by Cameron Vear, is effective, with excellent consistency where the character’s accent and mannerisms are concerned, and a wonderful delivery in Consider Yourself. Mr Bumble (Kieran Sutcliffe) also performs well, with pitch-perfect singing and an arresting voice, but perhaps isn’t frightening enough in the rôle, particularly considering how scared the workhouse boys are meant to be of him at the beginning – at times, Sutcliffe’s performance seems rather too jolly, though he delivers competently and commits to his decisions well.

Rob Halliday’s lighting scheme is well-informed, never in the way of the action but working well to complement it with some lovely moments; the angry mob disappearing into the green-tinged, eerie smog of London after discovering Nancy’s body works beautifully, in large part due to the lighting effects designed by Halliday. This moment makes wonderful use of Curve’s deep stage and lighting systems to create a fantastic illusion of depth, a masterstroke of blocking and lighting from Halliday and director Paul Kerryson. However, Halliday’s scheme should have taken more notice of practicality; faces are often in shadow, or actors need to be better lit. A little more thought there would make for a smoother, slicker final product.

Ben Harrison’s atmospheric sound design works well to set the scene and give the production a dynamic, alive feel, and the idea to extend these sounds to Curve’s front-of-house is a nice touch, meaning audience members sitting in the bar sipping a pint beforehand are already experiencing the atmosphere the production wants to create. Ben Atkinson’s musical direction is excellently done, with a competent band managing to live up to even the most iconic of Oliver’s tunes.

The standout part of this production of Oliver! is no doubt the performance of the show-tunes, with some staggering vocal deliveries. It is by no means a ground-breaking production, sticking largely to the tried, tested and expected format of the classic Twist staging, evidently influenced by Carol Reed’s 1968 film. However, what this production does, it does well, and with an enthusiasm evident in all members of its cast, which makes for a heart-warming and wholesome night at the theatre for its audiences.

Runs until: 12th August, 2012

Picture: Pamela Raith


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One comment

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    David Siddons

    I have seen quite a few shows at Curve, and this was easily the one I enjoyed the most. The cast obviously enjoyed what they were doing, the singing, choreography and lighting were without exception (apart from one apparent missed cue on a follow-spot when poor old Fagin was rummaging through his box in darkness!) absolutely superb. Of particular note was Oliver’s rendition of his solos – absoloutely superb. Unlike other shows I have seen at Curve where boys’ parts were played by adults (Lord of the Flies was a notable example), this time boys took the part of boys and they rose to the challenge with ease. I was amazed at the effect produced in the second half when everyone ran to the back of the stage – and seemed to be running for hundreds of yards into the distance!

    My only criticism of the show was the staging, and in particular the almost ever-present steel girder ‘bridge’ that dominated the stage; we also had the scene of Oliver in bed with a backdrop of a London scene (and of course, the steel bridge overhead.)With the facilities that Curve has, I think the staging could have been much improved. The sound was a great improvement on previous shows I have seen at Curve, where the amplification has been far overdone. This time the music was at just the right volume.

    But I came away much impressed and with a good feeling inside from what was an outstanding show. And a bonus was the ticket price at half what I would pay for other shows, and a programme for just £1.50 – again less than half the price of programmes of other shows (though unfortunately it didn’t actually contain the ‘programme’ of scenes and songs!)