I have to admit that this not-so-keen-on-musicals reviewer enjoyed the spectacle of Sir Cameron Mackintosh’s Oliver as the national tour settles in Plymouth for a three-week run. And it deserves packed houses every night.
Enchanting choreography by Matthew Bourne; a stunning set by Totie Driver and Adrian Vaux populated by thieves and toffs, streetsellers and boxers, circus folk and knife-grinders; a competent cast with several shining lights and the well-known Lionel Bart repertoire add up to a performance that get a fair few to their feet encouraged by an enthusiastic cast’s encore.
The ubiquitous Brian Conley brings his comedic roots to the part of Fagin lightening some sinister undertones and making the part (and in particular the perfectly timed “Reviewing The Situation”) his own. Beautifully slurky and with a script allowing for ownership and ad libs, Conley is the lynchpin of the piece shifting the expected focus from a competent, sweet-voiced Sebastian Croft (one of four touring ‘Olivers’).
Iain Fletcher, The Bill’s DC Rodney Skase, switches sides to make a rugged, gruff Sikes (sans dog) while 11-year-old Daniel Huttlestone (currently also filming Les Miserables) shows some fancy footwork as The Artful Dodger.
The supporting actors, many singing/playing multiple roles, the Ensemble, and large local and touring casts of children are excellent – particularly the versatile David Langham and six-year-old Nipper - but it is Cat Simmons (DC Kezia Walker in The Bill, Family Affairs’ Scarlett Anderson) who steals the show.
Vivacious and charismatic, Simmons is most believable as the tart-with-a-heart Nancy desperately and fatally in love but able to kick up her heels and flash her petticoats in a raunchy rendering of “Oom-Pah-Pah”. Excellent – as is the orchestra under the bold baton of Toby Higgins.
Anthony Ward’s superb costumes are reminiscent of the original Perdue illustrations while the already-mentioned set is worth a second accolade – whether city centre mayhem, smart West End townhouse, Fagin’s lair, London streets, orphanage, undertakers or down-and-dirty alehouse, the slick-movement pieces give great atmospheric effect especially coupled with Paule Constable’s lighting.
This production has something for everyone. The required dark and crude elements are there but suitably subtle to allow this to be something for all the family.