Oliver! – Crucible Theatre, Sheffield

Tom Edden as Fagin plus Blue Team ensemble in Oliver! Photo by Mark Douet

Tom Edden in Oliver! at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield. Picture: Mark Douet

Oliver! continues at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield until 25 January, 2014.

If I’m the one who’s reviewing the situation, the Crucible’s Oliver! could transfer to Broadway tomorrow. From top to bottom, it’s that good.

It all starts – and ends – with director Daniel Evans and choreographer Alistair David. From ‘Food, Glorious Food’, a slick, model masterpiece in itself, through ‘That’s Your Funeral’ (ghoulish Chris Vincent, fabulously finessed) to the scrumptious high-jinks of ‘You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two’, where every boy looks individually directed, Evans’ production has no problem matching or eclipsing West End standards. Maybe we should start saying London shows are ‘up to Sheffield standards’.

The opening reveals a few structural issues: the workhouse girls are phenomenally good, but we scarcely see them again until the curtain call. One small boy launches ‘Food’ with a tip-top voice – but solo boys get scant look in (one, near the end, is super). Likewise the climax – Bill Sikes’ death, symbolising the end of an era – is visually a flop. The device/harness is wrong and patently visible. Ben Richards is no Oliver Reed, but it isn’t his fault that it fizzles.

There are three superstars. Tom Edden’s sensational survivor Fagin, a single spot on whom perfectly ends the show, his whole performance a masterclass. Jack Armstrong’s Artful Dodger (doubling with the capable Travis Caddy) oozes clever invention, epitomising Dodger’s fusion of loyalty and independence, and Hayley Gallivan’s Nancy, blows everyone away with ‘I’d do Anything’ and ‘It’s a Fine Life’, galvanising the whole cavernous stage.

There’s fun from a hen-pecked Mr Bumble (David Phipps-Davis) and Rebecca Lock’s widow. Ironically, Jack Skilbeck-Dunn, as Oliver Twist, best shows his acting talent when not in the spotlight, and then he instantly shines. (Sparky Samual Bailey doubles as Twist).

Ulitmately, though, Oliver! is a thrillingly polished show, also boosted by the super Aladdin’s cave designs from Peter McKintosh, costumes to die for, and Edden riveting at each flicker of a nostril.

Jonathan Gill’s substantial musical team is brilliant. Thanks to sound director Simon Baker, we refreshingly hear the singing in all its glory. The flower/fruit sellers’ quartet is gorgeous, and when taken up by Oliver during ‘Who Will Buy?’, it is touchingly beautiful. The explosive vocal ensembles, boys and grown-ups, are spot-on throughout. They could not be bettered.

Roderic Dunnett

www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk

Readers may also be interested in:

An interview with Hayley Gallivan, currently playing Nancy in Oliver! at the Sheffield Crucible

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