Review Round-up: Consider Oliver! a Smash?
Seven months after winning I'd Do Anything, the "people's Nancy" Jodie Prenger claimed her prize in the role of Nancy, alongside Burn Gorman (from TV’s Torchwood and Bleak House) as her brutal boyfriend Bill Sikes and, making a stage comeback after more than 20 years, Rowan Atkinson as Fagin.
This is the first major outing for Oliver! since the 1999 death of Lionel Bart, who wrote the book, music and lyrics. Based on Sam Mendes’ 1994 staging, which ran 1,366 at the London Palladium, the musical is co-directed by Rupert Goold and Matthew Bourne, choreographed by Bourne and designed by Anthony Ward.
Oliver! is based on Charles Dickens’ literary classic Oliver Twist and, beyond its theatre fanbase, found legions of fans from the 1968 film version. 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.
Harry Stott, Gwion Jones and Laurence Jeffcoate - chosen by Mackintosh and I’d Do Anything judge Andrew Lloyd Webber as part of the TV series - alternate in the title role, while Ross McCormack, Eric Dibb Fuller and Robert Madge alternate as the Artful Dodger. (Stott and McCormack played the roles on opening night.) The cast also features Julian Glover as Mr Brownlow, Julian Bleach as Mr Sowerberry/Dr Grimwig, Louise Gold as Mrs Sowerberry/Mrs Bedwin, Julius D'Silva as Mr Bumble, Wendy Ferguson as Widow Corney and Tamsin Carroll as the alternate Nancy.
While not rapturous, overnight critics welcomed Oliver!. As for its high-profile casting, Rowan Atkinson won over the majority with a Fagin that was deemed “both sinister and hilarious”, Burn Gorman was found to be “truly chilling” as Bill Sikes and the public’s selection of the notably “warm” Jodie Prenger was “pretty much justified”. There was high praise for the supporting performances of Julian Bleach, Louise Gold, Julius D'Silva and Wendy Ferguson, and for the pluck and winsomeness of the various child stars. Comparisons were inevitably drawn between Mendes’ 1994 production and Goold’s recreation, which, though not “historic”, was said to sit much better at Drury Lane. And whatever their reservations, critics concluded that Oliver! is nevertheless an obvious “smash hit”.
- by Theo Bosanquet & Terri Paddock