Review: Oliver! - Edinburgh Playhouse

Oliver! at the Playhouse. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Oliver! at the Playhouse. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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Vibrant, energetic, comical and fun – Cameron Mackintosh’s new touring production of Oliver! has arrived at the Edinburgh Playhouse.

Lionel Bart’s musical based on Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist tells the story of the orphan boy Oliver, who escapes the orphan workhouse and the clutches of an undertaker to seek his fortune in London. On his travels he falls in with a gang of criminals headed by the miser, Fagin. His adventures and misadventures lead him to meet a number of quintessential Dickensian characters who all play a part in his journey.

From the very first note of the overture, the production captures the attention of the audience. The striking set by Totie Driver transforms the Playhouse stage into Dickensian England and the audience is transported to the workhouse where Oliver is being cared for. The cast of children, some local to Edinburgh, deliver the show’s famous opening number Food, Glorious Food with gusto and precision. This energetic performance sets a precedent for the rest of the show and all expectations are met. Every musical number is staged beautifully by director, Laurence Connor and choreographer, Matthew Bourne.

Cat Simmons’ performance of Nancy is thrilling and her rendition of As Long As He Needs Me is a true highlight of the show. She is complemented perfectly by her co-star Iain Fletcher (The Bill’s DC Rodney Skase) whose dark, violent portrayal of Bill Sykes gives the production a fiery edge. The two young actors playing Oliver and The Artful Dodger (Harry Polden and Will Edden) are outstanding and certainly stand up confidently next to their adult co-stars when they lead the entire company in Consider Yourself.

Without doubt the highlight of this production is its star billing. Brian Conley’s performance of Fagin is both true to Dickens’ original character and yet fresh and entertaining 52 years on from Lionel Bart’s creation of the musical. His tactful use of comedy generates some genuine laugh-out-loud moments for the audience. Conley sings, he dances and he brings Fagin to life.

A standing ovation is certainly Edinburgh’s way of telling the cast of Oliver! they want more! Run ends 23rd June.

Run ends June 23

Rating: *****