Impressively staged if sometimes trivial production of Lionel Bart's musical
Lionel Bart’s phenomenally successful musical was always a kind of Dickens-lite, the composer jettisoning much of the source novel’s gritty social commentary and satire in favour of glossy set pieces and a slightly cloying ‘lor’ love us’ attitude.
In its opening scenes at least, Cameron Mackintosh’s revival does have something of the high-class panto about it, the misery and horror of Oliver’s predicament in the workhouse, and afterwards as the in-house apprentice to the undertaker Sowerberry, somewhat trivialised by too much onstage mugging and repetitive jokes, not to mention a frantic pace that will leave even the mightiest of attention spans reeling.
The show really gets into its stride when our hero arrives in London, with Totie Driver and Adrian Vaux’s startling, multi-layered set weaving in and out of Matthew Bourne’s crisp choreography. Brian Conley provides some much-needed depth as Fagin, projecting a disarming mix of warmth and sadness beneath the villain’s sinister façade.
Major song-and-dance numbers such as ‘Consider Yourself’ and ‘Who Will Buy’, which at times involve upwards of thirty members of the ensemble, are impressively staged. And, if the titular orphan himself is rather overshadowed by the adult characters, there are occasional moments of real darkness here, embodied in the tragic relationship between Nancy (a striking performance from Cat Simmons) and rotten-to-the-core Bill Sykes (Iain Fletcher).
Oliver! runs at the Edinburgh Playhouse until Sat 23 Jun.