Oliver, Oliver,-never before has a boy wanted more! - well the audience at the Izzard Theatre certainly did. This was their enthusiastic response to Emma Burnett’s production of Lionel Bart’s famous muscial, helped along by a few production notes from Mr C.Dickens. Most people are familiar with the story of the young orphan who falls in with a gang of pickpockets and after many hardships returns to his family. Charles Dickens loved his characters however, and so the tale is perhaps less about young Mr Twist than it is concerned with all the colourful personalities he encounters, of whom there are plenty! This is not to detract from William White’s portrayal of Oliver. With a good voice he interacted well with all the characters throughout the show, as well as treating us to a moving version of Where Is Love
As with most Mad Fish productions, some roles were double cast in order to give more members the opportunity to perform. Whatever performance you happened to see, the standard was consistant and you were assured a theatrical treat. Seeing both casts perform I had the privilege of seeing two marvelous portrayals of Nancy by Saskia Burke and Georgia Stait. Passion flared in their well performed clashes with Bill Sykes and then deepened with the show-stopping renditions of As Long As He Needs Me. They were nicely partnered by Amy Potter and Bethany Rands-Walsh sharing the role of Nancy’s best friend Bet. In the final scene Amy’s touching farewell to the murdered Nancy was very moving indeed. Making their entrances from the rear of the auditorium loudly announcing themselves with a sinister vocal came Sam Coleman and Oli Howes alternately playing the villainous Bill Sykes. I don’t know if they frightened the audience, but they frightened me! To maintain such a chilling persona right up to and including their final bow without lapsing into farce is not easy - well done both of you.
In this production it must be said that strong performances were the norm rather than the exception, and yet Sam Hickman as the Artful Dodger was quite outstanding. Acting,singing and dancing, he does it all so well and most importantly knows how to support his colleagues without ever trying to upstage them. There have been many professional stage versions of Oliver where celebrities have been cast in the role of Fagin portraying him as some kind of pantomime villian. Not so here, Zach Le Cheminant gave a truly individual interpretation of the part. Sensitively combining comic irony with the fears of an old reprobate facing an uncertain future he was the lynch-pin of the show. His singing and acting were superb throughout the ensemble musical numbers and dramatic scenes alike, culminating with the masterly soliloquy Reviewing The Situation. No mean feat considering he was also Assistant Director.
Anyone who has seen the film or any lavish West End versions may have wondered how this musical would fit onto a relatively small stage. Well,it did so very successfully at the Izzard. With skillful omission of a few scenes and a little adaptation of storyline the cleverly designed and well lit set accommodated the story very well. There may have been no major scene changes but the large ensemble musical numbers performed in stunning costumes were quite spectacular. Consider Yourself, Pick A Pocket or Two, I’d Do Anything - the list goes on, and the Company made the most of them all. Who Will Buy made a marvelous tableau and the voices of the street sellers were enchanting.
I must mention two very gifted young actors Andras Jacobs and Lauren Creasey who delighted us as Mr Bumble and Widow Corney. The scene where they attempted to extract Oliver’s locket from the lifeless fingers of the old woman who called at the orphanage was a delightful piece of silent comedy.
Speaking of Mr Bumble, may I echo his famous words which coincidentally were those of the audience at both performances I attended---MORE! MORE! Yes please Mad Fish,as soon as possible. Here’s to the next production.