Mar 4 2015 | By More

★★★☆☆    Less is more

King’s Theatre: Tues 3 – Sat 7 Mar 2015

Big and bold, Southern Light Opera’s production of Oliver! is consistently entertaining but does not always convince.

Lionel Bart’s celebrated musical takes Dickens’s story of the foundling boy who falls among thieves in London, removes much of the plot and turns it into more of a romp – a romp, furthermore stuffed with recognisable tunes.

Lori Flannigan as Nancy. Photo: Lorna Frier

Lori Flannigan as Nancy. Photo: Lorna Frier

Director Andy Johnston aims to provide an upbeat, cheerful version of the story without any of the darker tones some attempt to include. While the bright, primary-colour feel with little light and shade is successful on the whole, it does not always come off.

Some of the performances really come alive – notably Charlie Munro’s hugely enjoyable, thoroughly over-the-top Fagin, whose rapport with the audience is particularly good on Reviewing The Situation. Alan Hunter and Averyl Nash provide a similarly successful pantomimish edge as the Sowerberrys, the undertakers who are Oliver’s villainous employers.

Scott Walker’s crowdpleasing cameo as Dr Grimwig also stays just the right side of ridiculous, while Gavin Scott and Judith Walker’s double act as the beadle Mr Bumble and the Widow Corney provides another large helping of humour.

However, the gleaming, feelgood shine added to many of the performances only serves to highlight those parts of the story that can never be so enjoyable. Lori Flannigan’s Nancy is strong vocally but a little underplayed dramatically, and while Lech Boron’s Bill Sikes is effectively snarling, the depiction of their troubling relationship is at odds with the rest of the production.

in fine voice throughout

Furthermore, a production that sets out its stall to be gaudy and sparkling should fizz consistently, while this has the occasional flat moment.

There can be few complaints about audiences getting their money’s worth regarding the number of bodies on stage. The huge chorus are in fine voice throughout, and the King’s stage can rarely have been so crowded. At times, indeed, there seem to be too many people on stage, and Janice Bruce’s choreography is in danger of getting swamped.

The workhouse. Photo Lorna Frier

The workhouse. Photo Lorna Frier

Food, Glorious Food loses a little of its punch as an opening because the huge ensemble of children seem to have real problems navigating the stage. Similarly, Consider Yourself, while a real feat of skill and stamina, becomes ragged at times.

While the crowd scenes undeniably have the feel of a real crowd, the numbers with fewer people are more dramatic. Who Will Buy? is extremely impressive with a smaller number of dancers having room to breathe, but has less impact as the stage fills up. It is noticeable that the most effective songs, such as I’d Do Anything, are those when a smaller ensemble such as Fagin’s gang have more space to show off some inventive choreography with spirit and dash.

The young actors are individually very impressive. Michael Denver’s Artful Dodger is a winningly cheeky presence, while Alex Morrison’s Oliver delivers a heartfelt and sympathetic performance, discharging his difficult early solo on Where Is Love? with a great deal of emotion.

The singers are well served by a huge pit orchestra under the notable direction of David McFarlane, while the sound and lighting are effective throughout. The dominating sets are also cleverly utilised.

Overall, there is no shortage of invention or ambition in this production, and the somewhat uneven nature of its execution does not diminish greatly from the entertainment on display.

Running time 2 hours 35 mins including interval
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ
Run ends Saturday 7 March 2015
Evenings 7.30 pm, Matinee Saturday at 2.30 pm
Tickets from http://www.edtheatres.com/oliver

Southern Light Opera web page http://www.southernlightopera.co.uk/

Images from the production can be seen here: Act 1; and here: Act 2.


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