Oliver! is not a musical that I am keen on. I base this solely on the film (and an amateur production that I once had the misfortune to see). So I wasn’t overly excited to go to see the touring production at Bristol Hippodrome last night. I had, however, read good reviews, it was a chance to catch up with my good friend and regular theatre buddie Kerrie, and I knew that Samantha Barks (who plays Eponine in the Les Miserables film) was playing Nancy, so I figured it couldn’t be all bad.
As ever, Oliver! begins in the workhouse, with the poor children dreaming about eating a decent meal in the famous ‘Food, Glorious Food’. The children were well in time with their marching and dance moves, though I was a little concerned that the show may in fact be more ‘pantomime’ when a few touches were a little ‘acted’ and rather slapstick. I appreciate that this is a show as much for children as adults (though in fact it really is quite dark with elements of a sexual and violent nature) but I am not a fan of panto and I like to believe totally in what I am watching rather than being reminded that it is being performed. That said, however, as time went on I did become involved and the slapstick became less.
I always forget just how many songs I know from the musical and was pleasantly surprised when each song followed another with an equally famous number. Mr Bumble (Jack Edwards) gave a suitably large and rather overbearing characterisation, with a big voice to go with it, his ‘Boy For Sale’ not too dissimilar from that of a certain Mr Secombe. An unfortunate (but well timed and extrememly funny) comment from an audience member in the second act caused the poor chap to laugh and have to hide behind his newspaper to regain his composure but it was very funny. We first hear Oliver sing when he is in Sowerberry’s funeral parlour (‘Where Is Love’) and this was a good representation of what was to come from this rather angelic boy. Sowerberry himself was played by David Langham and he was a very tall, thin man, perfect for a rather creepy funeral director.
The set was traditionally dark as Victorian London is often portrayed. The workhouse, funeral parlour and Fagin’s Den were all wooden and dimly lit but this was appropriate for the scenes and Fagin’s Den was brightened up by a string of hankies hanging from the bridge and the colours of all the boys’ clothing. Young Jaydon Vijn who played the Artful Dodger was excellent and gave a confident performance (as Dodger should be). His ‘Consider Yourself’ was well sung, with good diction and his dancing was perfectly in time.
Joseph Bennett who played Oliver was very talented and he had a lovely, sweet voice.The youngsters (the ‘Guineas’ team) were all impressive and acted and sung as well as any of the adults. They never once looked unsure about anything and I have seen adults who are far worse at keeping time than these little people. Ilan Galkoff who played Nipper was super and highly amusing. A huge cheer went up when Neil Morrissey, as Fagin, stepped out from behind a curtain. I had no idea of what to expect but Morrissey played Fagin in as shifty a manner as I would assume him to have, a true thief and selfish but not unkind. He did at one point (during ‘Reviewing The Situation’) manage to get in a Bob the Builder reference which the audience found highly amusing. Although I don’t feel he was the greatest singer in the world, I don’t think you have to be to play Fagin, and I was not disappointed at all by Morrissey’s take on the old crook.
All the ensemble numbers were most enjoyable, ‘Oom Pah Pah’ lead by Samantha Barks as Nancy was great fun (such a catchy tune) though was set in a pub so was a backed by a dark set, but ‘Who Will Buy’ was set in the posh, brightly lit London streets and was a pleasure to witness. There was so much going on that it was hard to see everything at once but it was lively, colourful and vibrant. Everyone held their own, there were dancers and tumblers, people on bikes and things for sale.
I have been waiting to see Barks perform for quite some time and she was worth the wait. Her Nancy was confident, assured and yet sensitive and loving. ‘As Long As He Needs Me was beautifully and powerfully sung and brought a tear to my eye. I am thrilled that she has finally got to play Nancy after coming third (though I must admit she always had my vote) in TV’s ‘I’d Do Anything’. Her Bill Sikes (Iain Fletcher) was extremely sinister and he came across brilliantly as an evil man. He was threatening and imposing and watching his disregard for everyone, particularly Nancy, was almost shocking.
The whole show seemed to fly by. I got more involved than I thought I would and I genuinely thoroughly enjoyed it. I have come away with a new found respect for the Oliver! musical and I would recommend others go to see it. Every performer is professional and quality and it is no surprise that this is another Cameron Mackintosh production due to the nature of the staging and the fantastic casting. Even the little English Bull Terrier cast as Bullseye was immaculately behaved and seemed very unphased by the whole thing, even when he got his own little cheer at the end. I came away singing the tunes and thrilled that I went.
Oliver! is on at the Bristol Hippodrome until Feb 24th and I suggest you hurry and get your tickets before the tour comes to an end. Kerrie and I both agreed that we had an excellent evening, with the added bonus of meeting Fletcher, Morrissey and Barks at the stage door afterwards.
As always, thank you for reading, your comments and feedback are most welcome.
Since posting this I have received a disappointed tweet from an orchestra member that I did not mention them. I must apologise for this and this was simply an oversight. The orchestra were faultless and of course they carry the show. Had they not impressed I would have been quick to comment and it should be the same when they are note perfect. That said, it takes a huge amount of people to put on a production and credit should go to all concerned – lighting, sound, costume folk, stagehands etc. I’m sorry if I disappoint anyone, it is not my intention, but I write as I find and often dont include half of what I’d like to say for fear of boring everyone to death!