Oliver! continues at Curve Leicester until 23 January 2016.
Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩
There’s a zany quality to Paul Kerryson’s production of Lionel Bart’s Oliver! at Curve, especially visible in the dark opening scenes in the workhouse. The angular, regimented choreography of the orphans and servants has a touch of madness and nightmare about it, culminating in what is almost a prison riot, and there’s a larger than life scene with an effete and sepulchral Sowerberry rising out of a coffin.
Exuberance marks the street scenes, notable for not being Cockney parody or pastiche, and the full-bodied rough and tumble of the low life in the Three Cripples is positively Hogarthian in what it depicts, including a mock birth on a pub table. ‘Oom-Pah-Pah’ is delivered here with vigour by Nancy and company – Cat Simmons, playing the role until 2 January, sustains a raw, fierce voice, powerful rather than melodic, and particularly defiant in the solo, ‘As Long As He Needs Me’.
Peter Polycarpou is a very likeable villain, playing up the wily aspect of Fagin rather than the darker side and demonstrating his versatility in delivering the number, ‘Reviewing the Situation’, one of the orchestral musical highlights (Ben Atkinson is musical director). He is in no way as nasty as James Gant’s opportunist Mr Bumble or Oliver Boot’s chilling Bill Sikes. Pint-sized Albert Hart, who alternates the role of Oliver with Liam Carr, does a very credible job, breaking hearts with his solo number, ‘Where is Love?’
Clever and versatile staging has towering wooden edifices that conceal cameo sets behind the shutters, and a gantry that serves in spectacular fashion as London Bridge (set design from Matt Kinley). The Victorian scandal of the gap between rich and poor, which so exercised Dickens, is brought to the fore in the warmth, sunshine and whirling gaiety of the well-to-do and the brooding darkness and misery of the rest. The deaths of Nancy and Bill bring shock and silence: the lighter side is best summed up in the colourful ‘Who Will Buy?’, where a sweet solo voice becomes a duet, trio, quartet and finally a joyful burst into the full company number (choreography by Andrew Wright). It’s an altogether good night.