'Oliver!' the Musical
Audiences at these sell-out productions were in for a real treat, as this was a remarkable portrayal of Oliver! with outstanding performances and stunning design of both costume and set.
Mrs Revell and Mrs Richards, who jointly directed the show, were determined to give us a production that reflected the grim realities of Victorian city life. The workhouse scenes, which opened the production, were suitably bleak with the cast dressed mainly in black, and Food Glorious Food has never sounded so desperate.
Jojo presided austerely over the scene as Mr Bumble, with Claire playing a sprightly Widow Corney. From this dismal start, Annie's Oliver emerged as an innocent in a harsh and unforgiving world, with a beautiful voice.
The dark tone persisted into the following scene in the funeral parlour, which became a nightmarish vision of dancing coffin lids. Mr Sowerberry, played by Teni, was suitably terrifying while Christabel, as his wife, was hilarious with her simpering looks. Lulu gave the role of the odious Noah Claypole a sadistic cruelty and the imprisonment of Oliver in the coffin was staged with a horrific realism.
Once we were in the world of Artful Dodger and Fagin, colour came into the stage with some terrifically eccentric steampunk costumes. The humour of the pickpocketing scene was beautifully staged with energy and perfect timing, as Lizzie was an energetic and charming Dodger and completely captured the boyish tricks of the character.
Fagin, the most problematic of the characters and a deeply anti-Semitic caricature in the original novel, is usually portrayed in Lionel Bart’s musical as a devious and grey-bearded corrupter of youth. Valentina gave a completely original and successful reinterpretation of the role as a fur coated and glamourous character, with a wicked sense of humour and real charm, making the scenes with her boys far more entertaining. However, we were swiftly brought back to the dark side of the story with the arrival of Nancy, played by Alice, and Bet portrayed by Maddy, both dressed in the decadent dresses of streetwalkers, and the striking figure of Victoria’s character Bill Sikes.
The first half came to a dramatic end with the capture of Oliver and, in an inspired piece of direction, those at the bar were treated to a rendition of Oom-pah-pah with members of the cast cheerily mingling with the audience. Alice gave a show stopping performance as Nancy, filling the theatre with her voice and the strength of her character. Another remarkable musical moment was the market scene with the sellers (Xanthe, Sophie, Angel and Naomi) appearing spotlit in the auditorium. The harmony of the voices, the carefully choreographed movement of the crowd on stage and the marvellous playing of the orchestra under the direction of Mr Keir made this a magical moment.
The class divides of Victorian England was displayed visually by the charming pastel costumes of Mr Brownlow and family, and Henrietta gave a suitably stiff and restrained performance as Oliver’s benefactor. The speed with which the final terrible moments of the play were staged was breath-taking and the impetus never let up with Nancy’s murder swiftly followed by Sikes’ death.
The lighting at this point in the play was very striking, with a looming black shadow on the backdrop, and the technical team led by Mr Williams and Miss Thomas must be congratulated on the skill with which they balanced the sound and created the atmosphere of the London streets.
Overall this was a production which will live long in the memory, both for those who performed and those who were lucky enough to see their work.