Daniel Evans' production of Oliver! displays a masterly balance of the musical's varied tones: tight, yet energetic; thoughtful, yet joyous. Peter McKintosh's design serves the play excellently, clearly distinguishing the dull grey world of the workhouse from the chaotic rainbow of Fagin's den, and the elegant, pastel simplicity of Oliver's final home.
The production is expertly cast, from the striking cameos of Chris Vincent and Liza Sadovy's macabre undertakers to the central roles for which the play is known. Tom Edden's Fagin is a memorable delight. Bringing his own highly comic stamp to the iconic character, he is pleasingly grotesque, but still touchingly human.
Hayley Gallivan's Nancy is the emotional lynch-pin of the production. Strikingly young, she is convincing in her naivety, her rashness and her tenderness. Her sisterly relationship with the boys is particularly touching. Evans' production often foregrounds the acting of the songs over their musicality, and though Gallivan is clearly capable of both, her rendition of "As Long as He Needs Me" is electrifyingly raw.
Jack Armstrong is a perfect Artful Dodger, with an assured presence and expert handling of business, and Jack Skilbeck-Dunn has just the right air of wide-eyed innocence for Oliver. From the moment the workhouse children enter, the stage is alive with their energy and commitment; likewise, with the adult ensemble. You get the impression that there isn't a person on the stage who wouldn't gladly give their all for Evans; in return, he has served them well.
Oliver continues at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield until 25 January 2014.