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Oliver! – Richmond Theatre, London

Author: Charles Dickens

Adaptation, Music, Lyrics: Lionel Bart

Director: Andy Locke

Reviewer: Ann Bawtree


“Oliver!” is a musical version of Charles Dickens second novel “Oliver Twist or The Parish Boy’s Progress” written to expose the sordid criminality of Victorian London and the cruelty visited upon its waifs and strays. All are aspects of our capital city we would wish to believe are things of the past, but sadly, as such organisations as Camilla Batmanghelidjh’s “Kids Company” demonstrates, they are not.

Running just a few days before the original author’s two hundredth birthday, this amateur production, by arrangement with MusicScope and Stage Musicals Ltd of New York, is the latest in a long and honourable history. Bearing more of a resemblance to David Lean’s film of the novel, “Oliver!” the musical is a gentler version of the story, with Fagin portrayed as a slightly comic, almost sympathetic character, exhibiting less of the heartless viciousness of the Dickens original. First performed in London in 1960, it transferred to Broadway in 1963 and has been universally popular the world over, even having been translated into Dutch and Estonian. A favourite with school drama departments, it can embrace an unlimited number of orphans in the way of that popular pantomime “Snow White and the Forty-two Dwarves”.

BROS, formerly known as the Barnes Operatic and Dramatic Society, have gathered together a perfectly splendid cast for Oliver! including two dozen of the best looking and ever energetic boys in addition to Harry Calcutt and Joshua Medcalf as Oliver and the Artful Dodger. The adult principals have some of the hardest acts to follow in theatre history. Thinking of some of their illustrious predecessors the knees could have been forgiven for weakening. However this Fagin, Bill Sykes and Mr Bumble in the forms of James Turnbull, Chris Warden and Bryan Cardus gave splendid performances. Of these, perhaps the hardest part is that of Sykes. The other two have the relief of strands of comedy but Sykes must be relentlessly vicious and cannot be too menacing. Nancy, in the form of Sue Chaperlin was especially affecting, her strong ringing tones resounding around the theatre receiving well deserved applause. The supporting characters were of a very high standard. The only miscasting was that of Poppy who, thankfully, was hopelessly friendly and amiable as Bill Sykes’ vicious hound, Bullseye! But she so looked the part it was quite forgivable.

There were some first night wobbles, literally so with the Sowerbys’ workshop, night fell rather suddenly over London at one point and the lamps on London Bridge were a little hesitant in finding their correct height, but all these points will undoubtedly soon be ironed out and were not enough to spoil a splendid show. We are lucky to have so many talented people who are prepared to put as much effort into providing first class entertainment as any professionals.

Runs until 2nd February

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