Over the years, Lionel Bart’s adaptation of the Dickens’ classic Oliver Twist is one that has always followed me around. The film musical was among the first I saw, my last outing to see the UK tour at my local theatre the Bristol Hippodrome with Neil Morrissey, Samantha Barks and Iain Fletcher in 2013 inspired me to write my Master’s dissertation (though I confess it wasn’t that high up on my ‘musical adaptations I want to write on’ list I went to my supervisor with when I decided on my topic) and although it’s not an all-time favourite musical of mine, it’s one I always try and see if it rolls around. That in mind, when I discovered that the Curve in Leicester was mounting a new production of the show over November running into January, I jumped at the chance to take the three hour each way trip. This lengthy journey in mind, a huge thankyou to Nathan, Deputy Box Office Manager who sorted a massive ticket calamity and saved us a wasted trip!
I first visited the Curve back in 2012, where I saw a wonderful new musical adaptation of Finding Neverland, starring Julian Ovenden & Rosalie Craig. I remember at the time being completely floored by the size of the building but loving how the theatre auditorium is a very intimate space. There was no exception here, and I marvelled at how well Oliver! translated into the space, and with Paul Kerryson at the directing helm I was struck throughout at how his and the creative team’s vision challenged me to look again at what I knew about the show and the novel already and excited me because I noticed and appreciated new elements and nuances. Matt Kinley’s set design was especially ingenious, among other things there were pieces that would be pulled onstage to open out into interiors like Fagin’s lair! Andrew Wright’s slick choreography is a joy from start to finish and hardly gives you time to draw breath; Consider Yourself and Who Will Buy were among my favourite scenes of the entire show. I loved all of the costumes, in particular Fagin’s and Mr Bumble’s, credit to Takis for their beautifully detailed designs: it was often an explosion of colour against Bruno Poet’s deliciously moody and atmospheric lighting.
There are some mighty performances all round from the adults and undeniably talented youngsters in the cast. With the adults in particular though, I was struck by the difference between this and my previous outing to the show two years ago: while boasting some incredible performances (particularly from Samantha and Iain), what I noticed was that their performances were the two that stood out and captured my attention more than any others. Of course, Nancy and Bill are major characters so that’s the point, but I would say that it was to such an extreme that I wasn’t really paying much attention to everything else going on around them when others were also onstage. With the Curve’s cast though, the talent commanded my attention from all angles. Albert Hart played Oliver at this particular matinee and while he isn’t the strongest Oliver I’ve heard vocally and lacked more of the vulnerability I like to see in that role personally, I was mightily impressed by his tenacity and spirit. Kwame Kandekore was a charming Dodger and I warmed to him more and more as the show went on.
When you read that an actor has always longed to play a particular iconic role in musical theatre, I believe that you’re in for something special should you be lucky enough to witness their performance, a feeling I had in spades watching Peter Polycarpou’s Fagin. I felt he struck a perfect balance between crook and loveable rogue who cares. As ever, Peter remains one of those wonderfully gifted character actors who is able to bring a smile to my face or a laugh to my lips with just the subtle touches and nuances, and it was a pleasure to hear a voice I admire tackle those famous tunes!
Cat Simmons brought a wonderfully earthy and rough round the edges kind of quality to her interpretation of Nancy, it felt a lot more real to me than previous interpretations have; and having only been familiar with some of her television work, her singing voice was a delightful surprise.
Oliver Boot’s take on Sikes was wonderfully menacing, a refreshing change from the cold, subtly scary Sikes I had been used to. When he stepped onstage, everything about him radiated ferocity and he more than did justice to My Name, my favourite song from the show. His chemistry with Cat was striking: two flawed individuals who you know shouldn’t be together and you know won’t end well, but at the same time pulled on my heartstrings.
I can say with total confidence that James Gant is by far the best Mr Bumble I have seen, with wonderful comic timing amid his air of authority. Having only seen James in Les Miserables in a minor role during his time there, my greatest regret is that I didn’t get to hear him cover the role of Javert after hearing him sing Boy for Sale here; his voice is incredible and sent chills up my spine!
Jenna Boyd is more than a match for him as Widow Corney, and their banter brought a huge smile to my face and fits of glorious laughter. Same goes for Jez Unwin and Natalie Moore Williams as Mr and Mrs Sowerberry!
As I mentioned, there was drama pre show, and as it turned out post show as well thanks to a lost car park ticket. All that aside though, I wouldn’t have changed the experience for the world. I hear a lot these days how people seem to be growing tired of revivals… I don’t really know definitively where I sit on that fence but I know that if a revival of a show can challenge and excite me in the way that this production of Oliver did, then revivals will always be welcome in my theatre going diary!
Oliver is running at the Curve until 23rd January. Laura Pitt Pulford will star as Nancy, taking over from Cat Simmons, on January 2nd for remainder of the run!
For tickets, visit: http://www.curveonline.co.uk/whats-on/shows/oliver2015/