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Atkinson Stars in Oliver!, Opens Drury Lane in Jan

By • West End
As previously tipped (See News, 14 Mar 2008), Cameron Mackintosh’s West End revival of Lionel Bart’s Oliver! will make its home at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, where it will open on 14 January 2009 (previews from 12 December 2008). The production will star Rowan Atkinson, making a West End comeback after two decades to play Fagin, alongside the new talent, discovered via the current BBC One casting competition I’d Do Anything, in the roles of Oliver and Nancy.

The new production will be directed by Rupert Goold, based on Sam Mendes’ 1994 staging at the London Palladium. Goold – the artistic director of Headlong Theatre, who won three Best Director Awards (Olivier, Critics’ Circle and Evening Standard Awards) for his Patrick Stewart-led Macbeth, now transferring to Broadway – started his career assisting Mendes at the Donmar Warehouse. Oliver! will mark his musical debut.

Goold will be joined by two key members of Mendes’ original Oliver! creative team, Matthew Bourne, who will co-direct and choreograph the new outing, and set designer Anthony Ward. Lighting is by Paule Constable, sound by Paul Groothuis, orchestrations by William D Brohn and musical supervision by Martin Koch. Mendes’ production ran for 1,366 performances from December 1994 to February 1998 at the Palladium, where it grossed more than £40 million. Mackintosh promises that Oliver! will use the full “spectacular use of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane’s majestic stage (which is almost twice the size of the Palladium)”.

Lionel Bart’s 1960 musical is based on Charles Dickens’ literary classic Oliver Twist and, beyond its theatre fanbase, found legions of fans from the 1968 film version starring Mark Lester as Oliver, Shani Wallis as Nancy, Ron Moody as Fagin, Jack Wild as the Artful Dodger and Oliver Reed as Bill Sikes. The score includes now-famous songs including “Consider Yourself”, “It’s a Fine Life”, “As Long as He Needs Me”, “Oom-pah-pah”, “Food, Glorious Food”, “I’d Do Anything” and the title song.

A founder member of the BBC's Not the Nine O’clock News team, in 1981 Rowan Atkinson became the youngest performer to have a one-man show in the West End. The sell-out season won him a SWET Award and the show toured the UK and internationally. His many credits include four series of Blackadder; Mr Bean, the highest rated UK comedy of the 1990s, which was seen in over 200 countries, and the Ben Elton sitcom, The Thin Blue Line. His film credits include The Tall Guy, The Witches, Four Weddings and a Funeral, The Lion King, Scooby Doo, Love Actually, Johnny English and the two Bean films Bean: The Ultimate Disaster Movie and Mr Bean’s Holiday.

Commenting on his new role as the miserly Fagin, Atkinson said: “In the 1980’s I enjoyed doing a lot of West End theatre and since then have been distracted very much by Mr Bean and film-making. I had been thinking for some time about returning to the stage and the idea of the role of Fagin, which has long intrigued me - some time ago I even played the role in a school production - seemed like too good an opportunity to miss.”

Producer Cameron Mackintosh added in a press statement: “I’m thrilled that Rowan Atkinson has finally reviewed the situation and succumbed to his long-held ambition to play Fagin. We have been discussing the possibility on and off for many years and to me this idea has always promised the perfect marriage of a brilliant mercurial role with a brilliant mercurial comic actor.

He continued: “For this production I will be having a cast and orchestra of over 100, including an exciting new Nancy and Oliver, who Andrew Lloyd Webber and BBC TV’s I’d Do Anything are helping us to discover. It was while I was enjoying my first theatre job as a stagehand at Drury Lane 43 years ago that I was given a chorus part in the original national tour of Oliver! and I first met Lionel Bart, so I will consider myself truly back home with this production, I only wish Lionel was here to see it.”

I’d Do Anything started airing on Saturday nights on 15 March 2008 and continues for 12 weeks. It will find an actress to play Nancy and three boys to alternate in the title role. (You can follow all the latest TV show developments on our dedicated I’d Do Anything blog!)

Currently at Drury Lane, the epic stage adaptation of JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings has posted closing notices for 19 July 2008, just over a year after it opened as the most expensive production in West End history at an estimated cost of £12.5 million (See News, 14 Mar 2008). No productions have been announced for the interim.

Oliver! is produced by Mackintosh in association with the Southbrook Group Limited. Tickets will go on sale on 7 April 2008.

- by Terri Paddock


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