I didn't hold out much hope when I phoned my brother, Ewan, to ask if he wanted to go with me to review 'Oliver!', produced by the wonderful Ad Lib Theatre Group and showing at Perth Theatre. It was his favourite musical but he'd already been to see it the night before and it was over two hours long. 'Of course I'll come with you!' he practically shouted down the phone.
A little bit of background. Growing up with a brother who was at that time classed as having a 'learning disability' (as an adult he now has an autism diagnosis), I often found myself caught up in whatever thing Ewan was obsessed with at that particular time. Most of these were music-related (he can probably still name all the b-sides to Adam Ants singles) and his enthusiasm could be very infectious. It is because of Ewan that I know the words to so many Beatles, Beach Boys and Everly Brothers songs. It is also It is because of Ewan that I know the words to so many Beatles, Beach Boys and Everly Brothers songs. It is also because of Ewan that I still the words to 'Agadoo' stored deep in my memory banks!because of Ewan that I still have the words to 'Agadoo' stored deep in my memory banks and can recite the track listing for 'Russ Abbot's Madhouse' LP. Cheers for that!
We pull up to park, the 1994 original London cast recording blaring of 'Oliver!' blaring on the car stereo, and make our way into the theatre. Ewan is overjoyed to find members of the cast selling programmes. He practically talks their ear off. There is a great vibe in the foyer, with members of the cast and their families mingling before the show. We run into someone I used to work with whose son, Ben Wilson-Stewart, is part of the production. Ewan is suitably impressed.
As we wait for the show to begin, Ewan strikes up a conversation with a woman whose sister plays Mrs Sowerberry. As soon as 'Food Glorious Food' strikes up I am hit by the quality of the production. The workhouse kids are absolutely top-notch, the choreography is great and the band, comprising students from London College of Music, sound really polished and Aaron MacGregor as Oliver is a great find. It's also testament to Glen Alexander's performance as the blustering buffoon Mr Bumble that he gets a thumbs up from Ewan. My brother has always been a bit of a Harry Secombe fanboy and Secombe's Mr Bumble is his favourite thing about the Carol Reed film version of 'Oliver!'
In fact all the 'baddies' in 'Oliver!' are great fun. The dialogue between Mr Bumble and Lisa O' Callaghan as Widow Corney (or Mrs Horny!) is more innuendo-laden than I remembered but the pair play it just right and the song itself is great fun. I also love the performances by Elaine Montgomery and Owen Thomson as the undertaker and his wife. Montgomery plays her part like a Roald Dahl character made flesh and Thomson's bold decision to play Mr Sowerberry as a slightly inebriated Kenneth Williams pays off in spades.
As Oliver escapes the clutches of the Sowerberry's and makes his way to London he soon finds himself being taken under the wing of the Artful Dodger played to perfection by Maria Bain. I've always thought that the Dodger and Fagin had the best songs and I really enjoyed the chemistry between Oliver and Dodger on 'Consider Yourself' and 'I'll Do Anything'. The contrast between MacGregor's pure bell-like voice and Bain's thicker cockney singing voice works really well.
Steve Hewitson as Fagin really threatens to steal the whole show. He plays Fagin almost like a cross between Julian Barratt from 'The Mighty Boosh' and Micky Pearce from 'Only Fools and Horses'. It is a much more sympathetic, funny and human performance then Ron Moody's Fagin in the film version. I Steve Hewitson as Fagin really threatens to steal the whole show. He plays Fagin almost like a cross between Julian Barratt from 'The Mighty Boosh' and Micky Pearce from 'Only Fools and Horses'.really love his reading of 'I'm Reviewing The Situation' particularly the banter between Hewitson and the clarinettist.
Emily Muldoon does a tremendous job of balancing Nancy's streetwise toughness with her maternal, softer side, all the while singing beautifully. As Bill Sykes, Gavin Russell excels at portraying the criminal's brutish physicality. The unsung star of the second act is the set design, production and staging. It's really clever how the set and staging are used to add a sense of depth and dimension to the show. The placing of cast members in the foreground or the background really adds a cinematic feeling to the evening. I particularly like the way the bridge is used during 'Who Will Buy?' and (spoiler alert!) Nancy's murder.
Two hours have passed before you know it. It's been a great production of one of Britains greatest musicals and both Ewan and I enjoyed it immensely.
Isosceles Theatre Company played an away fixture at Birnam Arts last week with their hilarious football comedy On Our Way to Lisbon. Read our review.
September 16th Monday 2019
Rona Munro's version of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is a very modern chiller, with great a set, impeccable performance and evocative sound design.
September 11th Wednesday 2019
The Echo Lab in Perth offers taster sessions for both guitar and drums. Colin fancied seeing if he had what it takes to be the next Jimi Hendrix.
September 2nd Monday 2019