Cameron Mackintosh's production of "Oliver!" has brought Charles Dickens' London to 21st Century Birmingham leaving last night's audiences asking for more.
With such a strong cast it's hard to figure out who leads the show: Neil Morrissey had the perfect comedic appeal as Fagin making audiences love such a slimy character, Ian Fletcher's Bill Sykes was evil yet enchanting whilst Samantha Barks played a gutsy Nancy that can belt out a tune or two, establishing herself as a true musical theatre leading lady. Max Griesbach and Harry Polden were the press night's Artful Dodger and title character, holding their own on stage and having audiences roaring at the end of their solo performances. The supporting cast and ensemble all deserve a special mention for excellent performances as well, comedic duo Suzie Chard and Jack Edwards were hilarious as Widow Corney and Mr Bumble and the ensemble brought to life the East End of London with uplifting musical numbers.
Totie Driver and Adrian Vaux's design for the show in outstanding, using an array of staircases, bridges and stunning backgrounds to bring to life Bloomsbury London, Fagin's den and a whole host of other locations where the musical takes place - the set alone is worth a ticket. The staging of this classic musical is genius too - one moment I was gaping at the sheer beauty of the stage being filled with dancing milkmaids and rose sellers in the number "Who Will Buy?" while the next moment I was gaping with anticipation watching blood thirsty Londoners running through to streets looking to kill Bill Sykes.
All the classic songs are there, "Food Glorious Food", "Consider Yourself", "Where is Love?" and "As Long As He Needs Me", all performed with commitment, energy and full emotion by the cast and the beautiful orchestra. Matthew Bourne's choreography is a joy to watch. It's hard to pick out many faults with this classic production. Everyone involved was dedicated and helped to craft one of the best pieces of theatre I've seen in a long time. I even found myself welling up as Oliver finds his happy ending (and believe me, I didn't even cry at "Ghost"... Everyone cries at "Ghost"!)
One small annoyance with this production: was it really necessary to throw in a Bob the Builder reference to get a few cheap laughs for Neil Morrissey?