Taking on a musical as beloved and intricate as Lionel Bart’s Oliver! is no easy task.
But NE Musicals did a wonderful job of bringing the tragic and heartwarming story to the Joseph Rowntree Theatre stage.
Bart’s adaptation of the classic novel by Charles Dickens follows the life of Oliver, an orphan born into a London workhouse, who upon asking for more food ends up amongst a gang of pickpockets fending for themselves on the streets of London.
Despite Oliver’s attempts to fit in and join the business himself, he unfortunately gets caught – leading him to reunite unexpectedly with his long-lost family.
Oliver! is at Joseph Rowntree Theatre from Wednesday 16 to Saturday 26 November.
When the curtain first arose and the familiar beat began, dramatic footsteps of children could be heard from all over the theatre as they entered the stage from all directions with their strong rendition of ‘Food Glorious Food’.
With such a large ensemble and large stationary set, I was concerned about spacing issues as they congregated on the stage. However Steve Tearle (director) and Ellie Roberts (choreographer) have done an impressive job – and throughout the show performances never felt restricted.
It would be wrong to review such a classic tale and not mention the starring role of Oliver Twist, portrayed by Zachary Pickersgill (alternating with Fin Walker throughout the run). A sweet and innocent imitation of the much-loved character yet unafraid to show a great depth to his character, from his bursts of anger to his soft rendition of ‘Where is Love’.
This contrasted perfectly with the surrounding scene at the Undertakers, the home of Mr and Mrs Sowerberry. Tom Henshaw and Melissa Boyd were hilarious in these respective roles, their chemistry and comedic dialogue was entertaining.
Director, producer and chairman of NE Musicals, Steve Tearle portrayed Fagin – he also played the role in their previous productions of Oliver! in 2015 and 2018. As someone who was clearly familiar with the role he played the character well with his nimble and animated personality.
Whilst some scenes felt more rehearsed and seamless than others, I feel this production can only become more and more impressive throughout the remainder of its run.
My favourite moment of the performance was watching the stage burst to life in the act two opening number, ‘Oom-Pah-Pah’. This was a shining moment for Nancy (Maia Beatrice, alternating with Perri Anne Barley) and the adult cast members.
Maia was a natural talent during this number, she brought gumption and passion to her performance as she told the tales – accompanied by some brilliant ensemble members acting out each entertaining story. Greg Roberts as the hilarious Percy Snodgrass was a crowd favourite.
As with almost all amateur musical theatre, there were a couple of technical issues – the volume of the band often overpowered those performing on stage. Nonetheless, this did not stop the talent from radiating throughout the musical.
The band, conducted by musical director Scott Phillips, did a beautiful job of the complex score. A special mention must go to Olivia Virgo, whose violin solos during ‘Reviewing The Situation’ made an excellent unspoken comedic dialogue with Fagin.
The musical includes strong themes of violence throughout the show, therefore I would hesitate to bring younger children to watch – however, this is the perfect show to bring those older children who want their first taste of classic musical theatre.
The whole cast were thoroughly enjoying themselves up on stage. Each and every one had a genuine passion for performing, and it was wonderful to see so many children who may for the first time, be experiencing performing on stage.
This show is a must-see for Oliver! fans or anyone wanting an entertaining night out watching a long-established, much-loved story.
Oliver! is at Joseph Rowntree Theatre until Saturday 26 November. Tickets start from £16 and are available here.