Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

This production of Oliver is glorious

Aberystwyth Summer Musical

Aberystwyth Arts Centre- Oliver! , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , July-30-05
Oliver! occupies a curious place in the heart of British popular culture. At its core it is a typically Dickensian affair; illuminating the hardships and degradation suffered by the residents of London’s seedy Victorian underbelly, it tells the story of how one boy, passed, sold and stolen through various nefarious hands, finally finds a home and the family to whom he belongs. Stripped of its musical trappings one wonders how Oliver! ever came to be one of the most beloved musicals of all time, and yet it is one of the few musicals that lives up to the (often) hyperbolic label of ‘heart-warming’, and the Aberystwyth Arts Centre Summer Season production does it justice.

The story is a familiar one. The young Oliver, after escaping the workhouse is befriended by the Artful Dodger and, subsequently, many of the population of London’s criminal underbelly.

Visually the show is stunning; the set shifts and shapes, evoking the moody mid-Victorian London for which the show is best known, opening up like a veritable dolls’ house, inviting us into the world of these characters. Smoke billowed out of all the appropriate corners, giving the impression of a cramped, claustrophobic circa-Industrial Revolution Britain, rather than the idealised London many of us imagine from the paintings of Turner. The choreography was quick-paced and jubilant, reaching fever pitch with songs like, ‘Who Will Buy?’.

It is of course the young Oliver, and the children of Fagin’s gang, who are at the heart of Oliver. Made up entirely of participants in the Arts Centre’s Youth Theatre and Dance School, these kids, are definitely, more than alright. Young Emyr Evans was an absolute darling in the title role, tugging at all the right heartstrings when lamenting, ‘Where is Love?’, and Tom Rhys as the Artful Dodger lit up the stage with mischief.

Helen French as Nancy, the ‘hooker with a heart of gold’ is a delight to watch. In a show that is teeming with song and spectacle, the moment she takes to the stage for ‘As Long As He Needs Me’ was one of the outstanding points in the production. Helen French’s voice is powerful and emotive, indicative of her rather impressive training.

Sion Lloyd, a native of Cardiff, depicted Bill Sykes as a looming, menacing force who renders all around him uneasy. It feels almost as if Phil Mitchell was transported back in time and given a top-hat, and Lloyd’s portrayal serves as a chilling reminder that the streets of London weren’t just home to colourful cockneys, but was also traversed by the likes of Jack the Ripper.

It is, however, the much touted ‘West-End Star’ Peter Karrie who steals the show as the seedy Fagin, leading young boys into a life of crime like an askew Pied Piper. Charismatic and likeable, one suspects that the Yiddish accent he is hampered with does little but impede his singing voice, which is otherwise first-class.

This production of Oliver is glorious: the inhabitants of the workhouse might be devoid of humanity and joy, but this show certainly isn’t.

Oliver runs until the 27th of August.

Reviewed by: Melissa Dunne

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