AD | Tickets was gifted in exchange for an honest review.
TW \ CW: Oliver! contains dark subject matter with depictions of extreme poverty, exploitation, abuse of children, violence against women, crime, theft, racial prejudice, sex work and murder.
A classic musical like you have never seen it before…
Last night I was invited to see Lionel Bart’s Oliver! Which is currently playing in the Quarry Theatre at Leeds Playhouse for its festive season. The theatre made a great start to the festive season of shows, and really made Oliver! the star of the building, having quotes and signs around the building getting you into the mood before the show.
Based on the Charles Dickens novel, Lionel Bart's Oliver! follows Oliver who wants to leave an unhappy and miserable workhouse to lead a life in Victorian London, to try and find happiness and a place to call home, while meeting different people along the way.
Oliver! really does have a sweet message of finding your place called home, going through highs and lows while navigating your way through life. Oliver! has themes of poverty, exploitation, abuse of children, violence against women, crime, theft, racial prejudice, sex work and murder. The difficult and heavy themes are in there and covered, but covered in a way that doesn’t shy away and the cast portray that brilliantly well.
My initial thoughts for the show was how this well-loved and well-known show stays well loved within the 21st century, and how it will feel in a round setting.
Oliver! has a book, music and lyrics by Lionel Bart, direction by James Brining, and choreography by Lucy Hind.
Oliver! runs for 2 hours and 30 minutes including an interval. Like always, my reviews are 100% honest and I will always justify my ratings, thoughts and feelings, always giving constructive feedback and my opinions are my own.
Oliver! is directed by James Brining, Brining takes on the task of directing a performance in the round considerably well, with the action playing all around you not just on the stage. Brining brought the workhouse, a pub and then the busy streets of London with such ease. The different entrances and exits used worked really well, it created the definition of the underground, or up on the streets. I feel that Brining took the word “immersive” and took it to almost literal level making this production of Oliver! to a place like no other show has done. Brining used every little bit of the set, this made the direction stretch out as far as it possibly could and you felt more like you were having an experience, rather than just watching a show. As your head spins around the auditorium to catch every bit of action going on, as you don’t want to miss out. The only downside is that your neck hurts after the constant spinning you do after the 2 hours and half (not actually a bad downside!).
Brining builds great tension within the last moments of the show, having you holding your breath and on the edge of your seat, making you really feel even more for the characters. It’s a great piece of theatre and the direction is in good hands with James Brining. I personally think that Brining has created a show version of the show with the new style of immersive theatre we are seeing in London at the moment, such as Cabaret and Guys and Dolls, and I am definitely here for that! Oliver! at The Leeds Playhouse is certainly in good hands with Brining’s direction, it's dazzling and creative and certainly is in the round.
Oliver! has a book by Lionel Bart. Bart's writing is timeless and classic and well adapted from the original Dickens novel. Yes there are some themes will go over the heads of some of the younger audience members, but it’s still a well written show for a family to see and enjoy together. Bart's book has comedy running through it, which provides some relief from some of the hard hitting themes in the show. Bart keeps some of Dickens' famous literary words, such as ‘melancholy‘ and keeps it true to the novel. But despite the themes of the show it doesn’t complicate, and is easy to follow along, with Bart's writing being pure and and true to the times of the show, making sure it delivers an important message along with the audience enjoying the show.
Bart’s Music and Lyrics are clever and lyrically catchy, they have been for many years and this is why the musical has been a hit and raved about by many. For many years people of all ages have sung the classic fun filled show tunes such as ‘Consider yourself’ and ‘I’d do anything’, then we get different music types such as a ballad, ‘Where is love’, and uplifting ensemble numbers, such as ‘Who will buy’. Bart’s songs take you on a variety of emotions from dark moody songs to cheery toe tapping songs. The music and lyrics do bring smiles to your face as they are performed by the wonderful cast members, they are executed brilliantly by the cast. Bart’s book, musically and lyrically, is still a hit with audiences to this day.
Firstly, I’d like to say a massive well done to the whole entire cast of the show, mainly the younger ones who get up on stage and give it their all, they are stars in the making.
Nicholas Teixeira played the title role, as a young performer, Teixeira’s scenes are spread out not just with his fellow younger performers, but the adult company too. You can see the professionalism and change of acting depending on what the scene was like. Teixeira’s charms and awes the audience in ‘where is love’, Teixeira sings every word beautifully and holds the professional standards of being in a show and taking a principal role. Teixeira shows a young vulnerability of a workhouse worker well and carries it along all the way through, while also showing the character's journey and arc brilliantly with showing his friendship with Felix Holt (who plays Artful Dodger). Teixeira is an impressive little all round performer.
Steve Furst, takes on the gang leader Fagin, Furst takes Fagin and shows the leadership well, Furst is a fun loving character and plays around with the direction to get the cunning side of of the character across, this isn’t overly done though and is well managed. Furst really shows skillful acting and plays this cunning but loving leader really well, and how he moves quickly and takes on the cockney accent is spot-on. Furst shows inspirational acting to the younger ones on stage and you can tell Furst is loved by all as Fagin. The characterisation is perfect and is definitely a newer take on the character.
Jenny Fitzpatrick plays Nancy, Fitzpatrick brings a kind and gentle Nancy to the stage, and is always trying to keep the peace with Bill Sikes (played by Chris Bennett. ) Fitzpatrick also shows the protection she has for Oliver and the others in the gang. Fitzpatrick has brilliant stage presence and is vocally outstanding especially when performing ‘As Long Has He Needs Me’, this was a blow me away wide mouth moment, the whole performance was truly remarkable. Fitzpatrick takes Nancy and delivers heartwarming vocals and a captivating performance, and really gets the audience to sympathise with the character, Fitzpatrick gives a perfectly pleasing performance.
Again, like I said this cast is brilliant, and does everything in their power to create a show for the audience to love. The cast come together as a full ensemble to put on a brilliant performance of this classic musical.
Choreography is by Lucy Hind, Hind creates classic choreography for this show and doesn’t go overboard with modernisation but adding it where it was noticeable, but not too much, gave it an equal balance of modern and classic choreography that still keeps to the shows time period.
Set was by Colin Richmond, the show being in the round and the stage right in the centre, as previously said, your head is turning to see every bit of the action. With having walkways behind the audience and little balcony platforms at the side, and then a big massive bridge that goes across the main staging, there's always something to keep a lookout for. Richmond’s set is notable and is expansive, making you feel a part of the show.
Oliver! at Leeds Playhouse is a treat for all, and shows that a classic musical can still be loved today. With immersive direction and some of the most memorable musical theatre tunes of all time, Oliver! is a musical that is great for the festive season. You need to ‘consider yourself’ and your family and book tickets to see Oliver! now. A must see this festive season.
Oliver! plays at Leeds Playhouse until 27 of January 2024