Oliver! is a perennial favourite, and so well-known that it’s hard to know how any director could ring the changes.
But it doesn’t do to underestimate Daniel Evans at Sheffield’s Crucible. His new production takes this popular show right back to its Dickensian roots.
The less savoury elements of 19th century poverty are dismally detailed, with trademark gloomy lighting and muted colours: the brutal workhouse regime, effects of alcohol and violence of street life all form an even darker thread than musicals usually contain. Against convention, the final scene is the grimmest of all, with no joyous, happily-ever-after finale;.
But don’t be put off; the humour may be a tad black, but there’s plenty of good old-fashioned entertainment as well. In particular, the Artful Dodger (Jack Armstrong, alternating with Travis Caddy) has plenty of attitude.
The workhouse kids and Fagin’s gang have great fun with their big numbers, and Fagin himself (Tom Edden) plays for comedy, albeit with a sinister edge. At the workhouse, the Bumbles raise a laugh or three with their marital antics. And all is not gloom at the undertaker’s when Oliver is sold to the Sowerberrys.
For me, the stars are a rough-and-ready Nancy (Hayley Gallivan) who Oompah-Pah’s with verve and rides an emotional see-saw; and Oliver himself (Jack Skilbeck-Dunn, alternating with Samual Bailey), who remains note-perfect and maintains his wide-eyed wonder at the world.
Last year’s My Fair Lady was a hard act for the Crucible to follow, but by george Oliver!, has done it!
Oliver is running at the Crucible until January 25.