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Review: Oliver!

PUBLISHED: 09:05 06 July 2012

Oliver!

Oliver!

©ALASTAIR MUIR CONTACT alastair@alastairmuir.com

This incredible staging of Oliver! is the closest you'll get to the West End outside London and yet another example of how producer Cameron Mackintosh simply never does anything by halves.

Visually stunning, energetic, comical and with some breathtaking performances, Oliver! is a tour de force with a stellar cast, choreography by Matthew Bourne and a set which transports you to the Dickensian streets of London that you’ll be talking about for years to come.

Lionel Bart’s musical, based on Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist, tells the story of orphan Oliver who escapes the workhouse and the clutches of an undertaker to seek pavements of gold in London.

In the very definition of ‘falling in with the wrong crowd’, he finds himself working for a gang of criminals run by Fagin, brilliantly brought to life by Brian Conley, and meeting a host of Dickensian characters that transform his life, ultimately for the better.

Mackintosh’s well-publicised love for Oliver! is apparent in every second of this lavish production – he was assistant stage manager in an early tour of the 52-year-old show. From the famous opening number, Food Glorious Food, to the last curtain call, the audience is completely transfixed.

And with good reason. We simply don’t see productions on this scale in regional theatres due to the sheer logistics and cost of transferring a West End show to a series of venues across the country, so a seat at Oliver! is a not-to-be-missed opportunity.

Conley is superb, subtly bringing his natural humour to the role of Fagin and a warmth that was missing from Dickens’s novel but which has always been present in Bart’s tribute to one of his masterpieces.

Equally, Cat Simmons’s performance as Nancy is breathtaking, particularly her rendition of As Long As He Needs Me, her love song to the deeply unlovely Bill Sikes, pictured below, played by Iain Fletcher, who many will remember as The Bill’s Det Con Rodney Skase.

Fletcher is a brooding, shadowy force who lends a real air of menace to proceedings and is the perfect foil to Conley’s Fagin, Simmons’s Nancy and the superb cast of young actors, some of whom are part of a local team that complement the touring professionals perfectly.

Oliver and the Artful Dodger, played by Harry Polden and Max Griesbach respectively, are outstanding as are Jack Edwards and Suzie Chard as Mr and Mrs Bumble and David Langham and CJ Johnson as Mr and Mrs Sowerberry.

From the striking, mechanised set by Totie Driver to the 14-piece orchestra, the choreography to the set pieces, the huge accompanying cast to the natural chemistry between the young and older cast members, Oliver! is a long show, but somehow, despite this fact, you’ll still find yourself wanting more (please, sir).

Oliver! is at Norwich Theatre Royal until Saturday, August 4. Contact the box office on Norwich 630000 for more details and to book tickets.

t Oliver!, Norwich Theatre Royal, until August 4, Mon-Thurs £45-£6.50/Fri-Sat £47.50-£6.50, 01603 630000, www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk

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