The campus is currently awash with traffic lights and lack of some immediate parking, so attendees should definitely not leave it to the last minute to arrive for this very traditional production of Lionel Bart’s Oliver!, solidly and faithfully directed by Roger Lamb and choreographed by Sarah Hogger. The boys and girls are very well-disciplined and focussed throughout.
On an exceptionally well-lit stage (lighting design by Martin Whittaker), shadows play a key role: characters emerge from the gloom to reveal their presence in Oliver’s twisted search for love and eventual security. Joe Mawby brings suitable melancholy to the title role: I particularly liked the change of stance from an original sloped shoulder to more upright and confident posture as the time-frame progressed. ‘Where is love?’ is confidently and well-handled, producing just the right emotional atmosphere.
The rest of the cast interweave with perhaps just a tad too much gentility, politeness and cleanliness to offer any real threat: in reality, Oliver’s is a rough and tough world but the Nuffield audience lapped up the iconic and well-performed songs in this kinder scenario. Indeed, after I had rushed through the car park, the re-assuring dum dum dum etc of the opening number from an excellent orchestra, under the perfectly waved baton of Nigel Finch, blew away the stresses of the day entirely and that is where the strength of this interpretation lies.
Abbie Miller is a well-placed, confident, strutting Dodger, while Mike Pavitt brings his usual excellent vocals to a very bumbly Mr Bumble, fearlessly fighting for, and then fighting off, the attentions of Susie Maycock as a wily Widow Corney. Her hat removal attempts on him, followed by the sardonic reference of Bumble to ‘such violence’ brought much hilarity. James Gould is suitably gruff as Bill Sykes and Jonathan Fulcher an oily Fagin. The Sowerberry sequence allows Les Pike and Sarah Fulcher to pitch ‘That’s your funeral’ delightfully, while Matt Pike oozes charm as Noah Claypole on a flirty Abi Jeffrey as Charlotte, and menace in a well-drilled ‘fisticuffs’ moment when fighting off an angry, besmirched Oliver.
Kerry Butcher appears on stage like a whirlwind firecracker as Nancy, both brash and tender when required, her relationship on stage with a coy Kerensa Pickering as Bet being particularly warm and affectionate. ‘As long as he needs me’ brings the house down, such is its power and emotion in the well-phrased and passionate vocal.
Diction is top-notch throughout both for libretto and song, with sound pitched excellently: Fagin’s ‘Reviewing the situation’ is euphoric and reflective, and every word of this difficult song can be heard and savoured as Mr Bart intended. The violin and tambourine work in this number are equally as good, matching but never overpowering, and thus enhancing.
The hired set is used to effect and the stage crew work tirelessly on the mammoth scene changes – this show demands many changes of location and prop requirements throughout – but make it seem effortless. The choreography uses all parts of the stage and the design of the Nuffield interior allows for walking and dancing in the wider aisles, giving an extended effect.
First-night nerves perhaps hindered the pace in a few sequences, but this will improve as the run settles down for the week. Is it worth the waiting for? Consider it a time-honoured success.
Future performances: 8-10 February at 7.30, 11 February at 2.30 and 7.30.