Aug 25 2019 | By More

★★★★☆    Frantic energy

Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre (Venue 76): Tue 13 – Sun 25 Aug 2019
Review by Dominic Corr

Captivate Theatre capture the magic of Oliver! Lionel Bart’s musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ novel, transforming the Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre into the hustle of London.

It’s the tale of the boy who wanted more. Young orphan Oliver Twist is pushed into the foolish decision of asking Mr Bumble, beadle of the workhouse, for extra gruel. After calming his temper (somewhat), Bumble sells Oliver to a funeral director, only for the boy to flee and end up in the caring employment of Fagin, a ‘receiver of stolen goods’.

Charlie Munro (Fagin) and the cast of Oliver!. Pic Captivate.

Oliver! is a staple of musical theatre but the role of Fagin was made iconic by Ron Moody. Here, Charlie Munro may emulate that performance to a degree, but supplements the slithering hiss in Moody’s vocals with his take of a feline Fagin.

This Fagin is nervous, alert and leaps at the slightest noise. A taxing role, Munro puts such care into the performance that it’s little wonder this ‘avaricious, old snake skeleton’ keeps the audience cheering.

Making for an adorable Oliver, Struan Bell puts in a sterling job for the title role. With substantial competition from louder than life characters, Bell holds his own on stage – gaining a roaring reception for his solo Where is Love?. From the first line this is an innocent Oliver, striving in big old London town to find his fortune, his identity and maybe even a family.

Sally Lyall’s nimble direction allows much of the particularly lengthy text to be packed into the two-hour run time. Trims are made – where necessary – but its the speedy scene changes which make the difference as the full set is foregone in favour of numerous boxes, which serve the purpose.

energetic interpretation

Oliver! is as much about the side characters as the young orphan. Artful Dodger, the epitome of the loveable rogue, is given all the necessary vim and vigour by Tom Barclay. What he hasn’t entirely captured in the vocals, he makes up for with energetic interpretation of the choreography, humour and general likability as he plays to the crowd. Barclay fits into the production neatly, not attempting to push his role further, nor slinking into the crowds.

An ensemble on this scale has enough power to carry those with limited volume, helpful when at times there are struggles hearing performers over the live band. MD Tommie Travers serves both crowd numbers – especially Be Back Soon – as effectively as solo spots.

The majority of numbers accomplish the desired triple impact of vocal, instrumental and performance, with Munro and Darren Coutts’ Mr Bumble selling joviality in numbers to high effect.

If there is a thin line between musical theatre and pantomime, this production does not so much cross it as tread lightly on it. Which is not an entirely wrong manoeuvre, as it enables the cast to thrive on energy and offers younger cast members a chance to strut. However, on occasion, it detracts from serious plot moments.

Oliver! has a delicate blend of pure theatricality, with a couple of darker narrative turns. Most, such as the fate of Nancy, are pulled off well enough, but at times this over-zealous showmanship robs tender scenes of their emotion.

emotional power

As Nancy, Megan Grace captures the English Rose with plenty of thorns, she is motherly with Oliver and her stage presence is commanding. Delivering Oom Pah Pah, with all the necessary gusto, it is her As Long As He Needs Me, which propels the emotional power in of the production through the Rose Theatre’s roof.

With tremendous control, Grace refuses to allow the bold notes to become too powerful, finding a balance with the band. As she sits there, broken yet still in love with the horrendous Bill Sikes, Grace captures the magic which is musical theatre.

Few Dickensian villains bring such a shudder as Sikes, a brutish and callously cunning thief. It’s a troublesome role with little stage time. Liam Forrester carries it well but his Sikes needs to be loud to be intimidating. He doesn’t convey quite enough terror, only achieving this when the script calls for violence or shouting.

With a whole host of characters to play with, Lyall has done an impressive job in matching the varying levels of difficulty with skill levels. Each orphan, pickpocket, lawyer or gentleman has a place and enough characterisation to help them stand out for a time. Equally, Travers puts one of the smallest roles right up front. The Rose Seller, an inconsequential character, has a line which resonates with fans of the original musical. Erin Bowden snatches this brief moment and leaves a mark; her voice is sublime.

Captivate Theatre achieve a remarkable amount in the crunched timescale of a Fringe performance. The production does catch up on them at times, working itself into an enthusiastic frenzy, but it also grounds itself with accomplished vocals, solid characterisation and a Nancy who captures the chutzpah and heart of the role superbly.

Running Time: Two Hours (including one interval)
Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre, 204 Rose Street, EH2 4AZ (Venue 76)
Tuesday 13 – Sunday 25 August 2019
Daily: 5.30pm
Tickets and details: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/oliver-1

Company website: http://www.captivatetheatre.com
Facebook: @captivatetheatre
Twitter: @Captivate_LTD


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