Thursday, 31 January 2013

Oliver! - review

Written by: Alex Hiscocks (@alexislawl)

Richmond Theatre, London

If you look really, really closely at the programme (and I mean really close, eyes within inches of the page close) you will see that this particular production of Oliver! is in fact not a professionally arranged show. The whole cast and crew are amateurs and have spent their free time putting together this take on the ever popular tale of the young workhouse boy without ever seeing a penny of the proceeds. When you bear this in mind, the show is admirable. However when this key piece of information is hidden so blatantly it’s clear that the company did not want you to consider this performance as merely ‘amateur’. So in writing this review I bear their assumed intention in mind.

It’s a showcase of how impressive raw, unrefined talent can be on stage. Every member of the cast is at the top of their game and the energy and enthusiasm from the ensemble simply pours off the stage. What this show really suffers from is lazy direction that looks haphazard and at times, simply chaotic; a few choices made by the directing team were bewildering. For example, other than to display a motif back to the films, why was there need for a dog on stage? When the show starts with a sudden snap curtain lift and overture bursting from the pit like a gunshot, why is it almost two minutes before we see anything happen on stage? Decisions like this tragically mar the pacing of the show, which, rather than flowing from one scene to the next, seem to stop, start and trip up over each ill justified decision.

Despite this, the whole cast is excellent. With many members of the troupe showing that amateur talent isn’t far off from the professionals they aspire to emulate. Bryan Cardus plays a fantastically consistent Mr. Bumble who vocally was pitch perfect throughout. Henry Calcutt pulls off an impressive Oliver, while one of the most understated lead roles in any musical, Henry did well to make it his own. The real star of the show was Joshua Medcalf who played Artful Dodger down to a tee, with real awareness and stagecraft that you would expect from an actor years his senior. Chris Warden menaced the audience with his portrayal of Bill Sykes, even if his performance was dampened by having to lead around a dog throughout.

The company behind this rendition of Oliver! deserve credit for flawless, energetic performances throughout. The talent on display was up to the bar of our blockbuster, well-known West End regulars. Sadly it is cumbersome direction that really fails to grasp and utilise the talent of this fantastic bunch of performers that really gave it their all. Coming out of the theatre you couldn't help but feel that a closer look at the performance’s progression when put to stage, out of a rehearsal room would have greatly benefited the pacing and overall reception of this well known classic.

This production runs until 2 February 2013. 

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Anonymous said...

Great review, although we had a slight difference of view re the opening minutes of the show.We think it was probably the directors feeling that the thunder and storm sounds would add to an atmospheric opening to a gloomy Victorian London.

Alex Hiscocks said...

Hey anonymous! I'm glad you liked my review, and thank you for commenting!

I agree with you, actually, that the sound effects and also the lighting really created a great, gloomy atmosphere (the sound design in this show was very good.).

My issue was with the energy, however. The orchestra exploded from the pit and the curtain snapped up so quickly that the energy was brought right up, and then back down again when nothing happened on stage! It sort of stunted the flow a little bit, I couldn't help but feel that perhaps a smoother, slower opening to the show would of made this less jarring.

Perhaps wait for the overture to finish before slowly revealing the stage? The ending of an overture is a great time to slow down the pace and bring that curtain up slowly to reveal your gloomy Victorian London. When you snap start a show you really think "Wow, something is about to happen!" and then it didn't... which is a shame!

Have a great day either way, thanks for enjoying my review and joining the discussion!