Oliver! – Crucible Theatre – Review

William J Connolly
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Hayley Gallivan as Nancy | Photo by Mark Douet

 Crucible Theatre, Sheffield | 16th December, 2013 | 7pm

Following the extraordinary success of last year’s seasonal hit of My Fair Lady, Sheffield opens its doors this Christmas to the much loved stage adaptation of the Dickens novel, Oliver! Everyone knows the story, however, this glorious re-imagining of this much adored classic brings something fresh, new and ever-so dark. Under the wonderful direction of Daniel Evans, mixed with a deeply dark heart, Sheffield Theatres yet again delivers a superb piece of theatre.

The production is lead by two of Sheffield’s brightest young talents in Jack Skilbeck-Dunn and Jack Armstrong as Oliver and the Artful Dodger respectively. With everyone having his or her own take on how the famous roles should be played, under Evans’ direction, the duo bring a cheekier, funnier side to Lionel Bart’s iconic characters. Both perfectly mix with a large group of superbly cast children delivering seemingly effortless performances for the watching, eagle-eyed press audience.

Hayley Gallivan, a younger, darker and dangerously vulnerable Nancy turns broken, betrayed but desperately still in-love with evil as the piece develops. However, nothing can take away from everyone’s favourite part of Oliver! and it comes crashing through shortly in the second-act in ‘As Long As He Needs Me’. Gallivan’s acapella opening to the song, mixed with her powerhouse vocals produces an explosion of desperation, and an almost explanation to her undivided love for Sikes. The tears. The blood. The hurt. So perfect.

With every Sheffield Theatres production, large-scale ensemble numbers are always a great crowd-pleaser and nothing has changed this year. ‘Consider Yourself’, ‘Oom-Pah-Pah’ and ‘Who Will Buy?’ explode perfectly in the middle of what could occasionally have been a step too far into a deeply dark piece. With a huge cast of nearly 50, Simon Baker’s rich and glorious sound design really filled the theatre. The production’s large ensemble numbers also helped bring that needed Christmas feel back.

Tom Edden brings the funnier, stranger side to the piece as loveable thief Fagin. Although not totally won over by him during act 1, the thin, cheeky rogue displays all his riches in his big second act crowd-pleaser, ‘Reviewing the Situation’. Alongside Edden, television star Ben Richards took on the role of Bill Sikes. Richards may not be the best vocalist, but his hard and aggressive character smashes through every scene he’s in and commands the attention of the room, often even without speech. His rough and hard-hitting look makes him a great addition to the cast and overpowers any questions of his talent. However, Richards’ death proves more funny than shocking, leaving many around laughing at what should be a serious conclusion to the show’s baddie as he falls from scenery top to floor, harness and wire in full view.

Under the leadership of Jonathan Gill’s musical direction and Alistair David’s choreography, production highlights include ‘Food Glorious Food’, ‘Consider Yourself’, ‘I Shall Scream’, ‘Oom-Pah-Pah’, ‘Who Will Buy?’ and everyone’s favourite, ‘As Long As He Needs Me’.

Peter McKintosh’s production design truly brings the piece together with a set full of moving scenic platforms, trapdoors, rising workhouse benches and even a disappearing carpet. All so simple but yet so effective when accompanied by Howard Harrison’s lighting design. However, as you delve deeper into the piece, there was the addition of ensemble members in horse bridals, and even Oliver being repeatedly whipped, including many rather uncomfortable and unnecessary moments. Although Oliver! may not be the lightest of tales, it attracts a younger audience, especially this Christmas season, who may find it occasionally a touch difficult to swallow.

Other great performances included a rather loveable pairing in David Phipps-Davis and Rebecca Lock as Mr Bumble and Widow Corney.  The pair were deliciously rich in both performance and voice. Liza Sadovy also produces a wonderfully dark and quirky take on Mrs Sowerberry.

Oliver! is a great show full of heart, love and glorious toe-tapping ensemble numbers, but with regular visits to the darker side of Dickens’ famous novel, is perhaps not one for the youngest of children this Christmas season. It just may, on the odd occasion, leave you asking for more.

Oliver! runs until the 25th January 2014. Tickets for Oliver! are available via: www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk

About William J Connolly

Theatre journalist | Ex: The Times Newspaper, London 2012 (PR) and Marketing Manager for CHTC (Sheffield Lyceum). Twitter: @WJConnolly