What a pleasure to sit in one of the nicest theatre venues in the area, soaking up the atmosphere that precedes the start of Spot On’s latest production, Oliver!. The venue couldn’t suit the show better as the semi-visible set can be tantalising glimpsed behind the gauze curtain onto which is thrown the show’s logo, and the 16-piece orchestra (yes, 16!) led by Martin Bennets tune up in readiness in the orchestra pit below it.
It’s taken a while for this production to emerge from rehearsals: like many a production it had to be delayed from May 2020 not once, but twice, before it made it onto the stage 18 months later. Directed by Alick Leech, this is no shrinking violet of a show – featuring a huge cast of 30+, it has most definitely raised the bar. With excellent choreography, staging, an inventive, moody set with excellent backdrops, an ensemble of talented actors and singers and accompanied by William David Brohn’s musical arrangements, we follow young, orphaned Oliver as he is sold out time and time again by the adults around him. A confident performance from Noah Clayton-Hart – his endearing solo ‘Where Is Love’ is especially touching, not an easy one to nail but he does it faultlessly.
A strong supporting cast of principals follow including Conner Handstock, solid in the role of Mr Bumble and perfectly matched by Emma Harris’s hilarious screeching Widow Corney, Nico Bray as the cheeky Artful Dodger (he’s just how the Dodger should be); Adam Rush takes on the iconic role of Fagin with aplomb (a shame we can’t see more of his facial expressions, partly hidden as they are by his hair) and performs a cracking rendition of ‘Reviewing The Situation’ into which has been inserted a clever minute-long monologue at triple speed. Josh McDonald is a suitably threatening Bill Sikes and veteran actor Mick Attwood turns in a charming performance as Mr Brownlow. But 10s for the evening all round go to Holly Ind in the oft- overlooked part of Nancy who puts in a splendid performance. Her heartfelt solo ‘As Long As He Needs Me’ is powerful, she is thoroughly believable throughout and in her confrontations with Sikes her acting ability is outstanding.
The other star of the show goes to someone we never see, Abbie Feltham; she has choreographed the whole show with some extremely complicated routines and tricky crowd scenes. The full ensemble number of ‘Consider Yourself’ is an absolute joy to watch and listen to, as she and the cast make full use of the space available. I’ve never seen ballet in Oliver! before, either!
On the opening night there were one or two minor glitches which I’m sure will be ironed out by tonight: Bill Sikes’ fall from the bridge is superb, covered well by the crowd as he lands, but the visible removal of the mattress onto which he falls rather spoils the effect. But these are, as I say, very minor points in an otherwise flawless performance.
Oliver! is a timeless show and an ever-popular choice. Its endearing charm is in Bart’s faithfulness to Dickens’ original Oliver Twist, but without the really gritty stuff that goes with it. Instead, although Bill Sykes meets a sticky end, we must presume that the loveable rogues of Fagin and The Artful Dodger disappear off into the sunset, reformed but unchanged. In the book it’s a different story. Yes, there are dark moments but they are more than offset by the uplifting songs, many of which we all know so well. It’s always difficult to avoid following the lead set by the 1968 film, and of Ron Moody and Oliver Reed in particular. Striking out can be tricky and it’s a complex show to perform well. Top hats off to Alick Leech and his talented team at Spot On for doing just that.
Oliver! continues at The Point until Saturday; contact www.thepointeastleigh.co.uk (02380 652333) for tickets and information, including Spot On’s forthcoming Jack and The Beanstalk which runs 13 – 15 January 2022.