BWW Reviews: OLIVER! Crucible, Sheffield, December 16 2013
The Christmas musical is fast becoming one of the highlights of Sheffield Theatres' programme. Last year's My Fair Lady was a sell-out crowd-pleaser that earned a range of plaudits. So how does Sheffield Crucible's production of Oliver! compare?
Daniel Evans is back on directorial duties, with Alistair David providing choreography and Jonathan Gill as musical director. After a short sequence involving OIiver's mother, the show really kicks into gear with a high-energy 'Food Glorious Food' performed by the 28-strong children's ensemble. It's one of many ensemble pieces that really make this show - the big tunes, from Who Will Buy? to Oom Pah Pah combine very energetic dance routines with enthusiastic performances from the adult and child ensembles and certainly got the crowd excited on the night I visited.
The young boys who make up Fagin's gang in particular were a delight, each costumed in colourful takes on the traditional urchin garb, and each having his own particular character. It's a shame, however, that the female child ensemble performers weren't given more to do, either as members of the gang, or in other crowd scenes.
As for the leads, Tom Edden is spellbinding as Fagin, managing to demonstrate great physicality, a sense of wilyness and a distinct twinkle in the eye - although his physicality was matched by the very expressive Jack Armstrong as the Artful Dodger (a role shared with Travis Caddy). Hayley Gallivan is a warm and spirited Nancy who very quickly wins the audience's affections, whilst Oliver (newcomer Jack Skilbeck-Dunn - in a role shared with Samual Bailey) is portrayed as naïve and eager to please, an adorable contrast to the more worldly-wise types he meets.
I did find some scenes more effective than others - anything after the plot moved to London was very enjoyable, with Bill Sikes' smashing up the bar proving effectively chilling; the funeral directors' song being performed with some really unusual staging that will leave you wondering how they achieved certain things; and all of the group songs were full of life. I was less enamoured with the scenes with Mr Bumble, Widow Corney and the funeral directors (staging and dancing aside) - the make-up, hair and performances were a bit too over-played here, and whilst they might work more successfully in a traditional proscenium arch theatre, the thrust layout of the Crucible rewards intimacy and subtlety.
This is, however, a small quibble in a show that is so full of energy and life that it wins you over with its charms. Like its characters it isn't perfect, but it's so lovable and full of life that by the end you can forgive its weaknesses - the standing ovation it received suggests the theatre has another crowd-pleasing hit on its hands.
Oliver! is at the Crucible, Sheffield until January 25.