Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Oliver

Cameron Mackintosh and Associates , Wales Millennium Centre , December-21-11
Oliver by Cameron Mackintosh and Associates On the top of the programme it reads “Lionel Bart’s Musical Masterpiece” and it most definitely is! Both in popular song and in musical theatre, though that name was not in popular use at the time Lionel Bart’s unprepossessing genius broke the mould. This is a story of operatic proportions and and an equally high achieving work of music theatre art.

Whilst we hear phrases of the many well known beautiful tunes inside the overture, from the top class orchestra under the very skilful and sensitive direction of Toby Higgins, it is dominated by an ominously resonating drum beat. The curtain goes up on the dark grim workhouse scene and we meet the bedraggled kids. It’s these kids, at the heart of the show, that make this production so special, they are all absolutely wonderful. Nearly fifty of ‘em, some young touring professionals with their feet firmly on the early rungs of the ladder to professional stardom and some from Cardiff schools; all of them act, sing and dance to a remarkable level of captivating proficiency far greater than usually seen in such young performers. The children’s directors Mark Hedges and Carrie Grant have done a first class job. It is this attention to detail that lies at the heart of Cameron Mackintosh’s great success: tonight he is celebrating the bi-centenary of Dickens by launching this new production here at Cardiff’s magnificent Millennium Centre. One of his favourite theatres
There is a true Dickensian feeling about the look of the stage with its cleanly moving scenery taking us from the dingy workhouse and the sweaty low-life dwelling place of Fagin and his mob to the elegant streets of London in the nineteenth century, where we are asked to buy many things including roses and fruit and to have our knives sharpened.

Oliver asking for more has become a bit of a cliché but the young actor performs with such genuine sincerity that it could be the first time we have ever heard those words. There are four young actors playing Oliver at different performances and no doubt Sebastian Croft, Gwion Wyn Jones, Harry Polden and Oliver Tritton Wheeler give performances equally as enchanting as the one we see tonight.

And the grown-up actors are not very far behind them: Jack Edwards’ Mr Bumble and Suzie Chard’s Widow Corney create perfect Dickensian characters and with their singing of ‘Oliver’ and ‘I shall scream’ establish a very high vocal quality that continues throughout the production. Soon the totally engaging Artful Dodger has us all Considering Ourselves members of his gang, three Dodgers Will Edden, Max Griesbach and Joseph Potter all I’m sure have that knowing wink that make tonight’s actor so loveable and engaging.

It is not long before we are being taught to pick a pocket or two by the whimsical and rascally Fagin. With his smooth smile and cheeky grin he could have taught us anything. This was a consummate stellar performance from Neil Morrissey, behaving badly as ever. He relishes every moment of the role and everyone in the packed auditorium relishes watching him.

Samantha Barks gives us an equally strong yet at the same time very sensitive playing of Nancy. And by golly her singing raised the neck hairs of everyone both on and off the stage; and very nearly the roof off the theatre stage, a performance of great theatrical joy. Iain Fletcher’s Bill Sikes’ was spot on, giving off a smell of pure evil. The enthusiasm of the booing at his curtain call proved he had made his mark. Even his dog, Bull’s Eye looked absolutely perfect and also acknowledged us gratefully at the end of the show. A Formula One of a show. If you want to see West End theatre, you don’t have to go to London. Get down to the Wales Millennium Centre you won’t see better.












Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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