Writer and Composer: Lionel Bart
Producer: Cameron Mackintosh
Reviewer: Marina Spark
A booming overture marked the beginning of Lionel Bart’s ‘Oliver!’ and swiftly transported us to Dickensian England. What was evident from the moment the security curtain was raised was the complexity of the breathtaking set. The set, designed by Totie Driver and Adrian Vaux, was tremendously well conceived and detailed, with exceptionally effective use of perspective to create highly convincing street scenes, taverns and of course Fagin’s den. With some great special effects thrown into the mix, such as snow, it is safe to say that this production of ‘Oliver!’ is exceptional; there is nothing hackneyed or old about it.
The greatest achievement in this show was undoubtedly the attention to detail from Choreographer Matthew Bourne, Children’s Director Mark Hedges and Children’s Musical Director Carrie Grant. The first number in the show is the famous song, ‘Food, Glorious Food!’ Children local to Southampton performed with such verve and professionalism that they were indistinguishable from the young national tour members. The tight choreography and sharp enunciation in the songs made this rendition of ‘Food, Glorious Food’ outstanding and served as a reminder as to why this musical is still so loved over 50 years after its first show.
The full cast performed each of their respective rôles entertainingly and in a manner true to the musical, however, three performers were marvellous. Firstly, CJ Johnson, who played Mrs Sowerberry, created a cold, avaricious yet completely hilarious character. Her creation was second to none, as the Sowerberry scene is an easily forgotten plot line in the musical; the big character choices that she and her husband, played by David Langham, made paid off tenfold as ‘That’s Your Funeral’ was a true highlight of the evening. Secondly, Brian Conley’s Fagin moved away from the usual affected, grimacing interpretation and instead provided a more human character, with a sinister undertone. Conley’s comedy roots shone through and the audience was awarded with a few titbits of extra-plot line slapstick. Although highly amusing this was slightly superfluous; Conley’s Fagin was entertaining enough without the need for extra jokes. Finally, in a similar manner to Brian Conley’s Fagin, Iain Fletcher’s Bill Sykes moved away from the usual interpretation. He did away with the constant gruff shouts and overtly brutish actions that we often come across and as a result the danger and menace within the character was far more potent. The struggle to maintain a fearsome reputation and protect his interests was clear in Fletcher’s characterisation, making his demise all the more poignant.
This musical is filled with big musical numbers, some creating a feast for the eyes; ‘Consider Yourself’ was a mesmerising medley of complex choreography, ‘Oom-Pah-Pah’ was fantastically debauched and ‘Who Will Buy’ was scintillatingly spectacular. There are no weak links in this production and it has been expertly directed by Laurence Connor.
‘Oliver!’ at The Mayflower Theatre, Southampton was a fantastic night out; it comes highly recommended.
Runs until 26 May 2012 at The Mayflower, Southampton, then touring.