Alderley & Wilmslow Musical Theatre Company
Director: Heidi Cook
Musical Director: Ed Nurse
Choreography: Kevin David Clarke
As a musical Oliver! is a strange spectacle, a story about a workhouse boy who is sold into an apprenticeship, escapes to find himself part of a boy gang of pickpockets run by a notorious fence, and then is threatened by an East End villain and, to top it all, witnesses a brutal murder. But the fact that we find it strangely uplifting is helped by the toe-tapping tunes and familiar lyrics. The score certainly cemented its success; it is an escapist musical with a great big feel-good factor.
A composite set with inserts for the many locations depicted a Dickensian London. The lighting brought out the dark 1830s underbelly of city life. The sound balance, unfortunately, was too open and it took until act two to be corrected. The costumes, mainly in-house, complemented the richly drawn characters.
There have been changes to the licensed material, changes which I felt let down the original. However, the director introduced new ideas giving freshness to the piece; the characterisations were enjoyably overhauled. All the music and songs were gleefully interpreted by the orchestra and the company. The choreography and general movement created colourful pictures amongst the seedy life of the populous.
The ensemble work was good creating a bigger dramatic picture; Fagin’s gang and the workhouse boys certainly had a lot more zest than the gruel they had to eat. Oliver and the Artful Dodger were played by Oliver Lamont and Oskar Jackson respectively. As soon as they stepped into character the audience were with them. As the old villainous magpie, Fagin Rob Haslam, pulled off all his distinctive roguish attributes.
Supporting roles and cameo roles were well cast; Tina Spiers played a northern Widow Corney extracting all the humour. This was not one-sided. Corney’s Mr Bumble was playfully played by Steven Sheppard. Their scenes together were great fun proving timing is everything. The Sowerberrys, Bradley Snelling as Mr S., and Kathy Thomason-Stewart as Mrs. S. were the stuff of young Oliver’s nightmares. Helping with his ordeal were the abusive Charlotte and Noah Claypole. Sophie Williams and Jonathan Cresswell created distinctive characters as Oliver’s heartless assailants.
Poor misguided Nancy is the only person in this tale of morality that has any decency. Sara Hawley was splendid as the tainted lover of Bill Sykes; Sara brought pathos to the role. Equally splendid with smouldering malevolence was Alex Bingle, as the brutal, Bill Sykes. And we must not forget the acting dog, Gordon, the bull terrier, playing Bullseye.
Lionel Bart’s spirited timeless musical Oliver! has that certain something that guarantees it will never fade.