Every now and then, a show comes to Bristol that is an absolute joy to watch. Last night, that show was Oliver!
With its high production values, team of creatives and fabulous cast getting it totally spot on, Oliver! at the Bristol Hippodrome is a Must See.
The first twenty or so minutes of the show set in the Midlands are necessarily drab and bleak. But when the show gets Cockney, it all kicks off in superb style. Getting Cockney right is harder than you might think, but we were drawn into the hustle and bustle of the bright, energetic London world. As the story unfolds through the well known song and dance numbers, the scenery changes seamlessly behind, allowing the characters to journey through the busy streets.
The highly anticipated Samantha Barks ticks all the boxes for the feisty Nancy, yet this was no Nancy by numbers performance.
Barks showed anyone – who may still need convincing – why she was cast as tragic Eponine in the film adaptation of Les Misérables. Her power packed voice filled the theatre with every song, but she was also capable of both softer and tragic moments.
The coveted role of Nancy is a complex character, who is strong and charming, but ultimately falls at the hands of abusive love of her life Sykes. Samantha Barks rose to the challenge and is a wonderful leading lady.
There are of course dark moments throughout the show. Younger children most likely won’t pick up on some of them. But it’s just not possible to keep the mild violence – well mild until Nancy’s murder – of Bill Sykes out of the story. The murder isn’t graphic and well hidden, but Bill does end up getting shot. Twice. There is also a lot of shaking and pushing that are characteristic of the story. Oliver has a long difficult way to go through the crime-ridden underground of London before reaching his final destination.
Former heavyweight in The Bill, Iain Fletcher, plays Bill Sykes well. With his height and dark menace he gives us not one jot of a redeeming feature. He is of course occasionally accompanied by his dog Bullseye, who faithfully pads around the stage at appropriate moments without putting a paw wrong.
The barely recognisable Neil Morrissey is an absolute treat as Fagin. His entertaining performance is characteristic of Ron Moody of course, and his scenes with the boys are delightful.
Young Doctor Who fans won’t recognise Stephen Moore, the kindly bumbling, almost Fawlty Towers Lord Melbury, as Mr Brownlow. But, they may well remember him as Silurian Eldane, in Doctor Who. Mr Brownlow doesn’t feature much in this adaptation, but present and correct is the Who Will Buy song, another show stopping ensemble piece.
Of course, the show is all about Oliver, played in this performance by angelic Sebastian Croft. He contrasts well to the young pack of miscreants making up Fagin’s gang.
Artful Dodger, Daniel Huttlestone’s brilliant performance shouldn’t really be a surprise. He is also currently winning hearts in cinemas with his portrayal of Little People Gavroche, in Les Misérables.
Though his direction of future stage star is assured, the task of carrying the weight of a large role at his age such as Dodger shouldn’t be underestimated.
The whole of Fagin’s Gang and the scenes they are in are a joy to watch. The banter, interaction, singing and dancing show these children have real talent.
This is not forgetting the Bristol Workhouse Kids, who pull off an incredibly polished performance of Food Glorious Food for ones so young.
With the dull winter weather and grey skies outside, step inside the Hippodrome to have your spirits lifted in this bright gem of a production