REVIEW: Oliver!

I WAS relieved to escape with my pockets intact, so convincing was the performance of Oliver! that I went to see on Saturday evening.

Knutsford Musical Theatre Company (KMTC) plunged audiences deep into a Victorian world of poverty and injustice at The Grange Theatre but thankfully with a large dose of humour, kindness and warmth thrown in too.

All the classics were there, Food, Glorious Food, Consider Yourself, I’d Do Anything and Pick a Pocket or Two along with the haunting Where Is Love? As Long as He Needs Me and Who Will Buy, all sung tremendously well by individual cast members and in rousing chorus performances leaving audience members struggling not to sing along.

The show was staged both within the proscenium arch and in the round, bringing the action close to the spectators.

One of my favourite parts of the production is something apparently minor but which broke down those barriers between actors and audience.

This was the method of opening both acts, in which costumed actors came into the theatre with straggling audience members a couple of minutes before the action started and milled about on the stage in character - from workhouse maids preparing for the onslaught of hungry orphans to drinkers setting the scene for The Three Cripples pub.

This gradually immersed the audience into the world of the production.

The fantastic sets, props, lighting and costume also transported the audience from sparse workhouse to thieves’ den to comfortable parlour with ease.

Special effects like the smoking gruel pot and Fagin’s fire were also lovely evocative touches, along with the on stage projections to set the scene.

But, of course, it is the actors who really carry you along with them.

Young Oliver was played by Toby Abbott in an incredibly touching performance.

From his solo song Where Is Love to the way he mimicked the Artful Dodger in Consider Yourself, he conveyed his character’s innocence, vulnerability and simple wish for kindness and love.

Arthur Hulse took on the role of Fagin, a great Dickensian character, and did an excellent job to bring out his care and affection for the gang of apprentice villains and showing him to be a rogue but one with a good heart and a desire to go straight, even if he struggles to muster the will.

He was also in charge of some classic songs and did not let us down.

Annabel Fox’s portrayal of Nancy was captivating - she has a fabulous voice and her solos were wonderful.

The character’s struggles between her conscience and doomed love for evil Bill Sykes were totally believable.

Fox also deserves special mention for all the bruises she must have suffered being thrown to the floor by nasty Sykes, played by Sid Robbins.

Robbins emanated menace in the way he paced the stage and growled his lines.

But it was Joseph Sant who stole the show for me as the Artful Dodger, the cocky Cockney ‘gent’ who takes Oliver under his wing.

His was a confident and polished performance which did not fail to make me smile.

I’ve picked out my particular favourite performances from an enormous ensemble of adult and surprisingly accomplished child actors who were all worthy of mention, if I had the space.

My only criticism is that sometimes I struggled to hear some of the spoken lines, this may have been a technological failing but I found myself wishing actors would speak up and a bit more clearly at points.

But I can’t possibly finish this review without praising the wonderful orchestra, who definitely made sure that this production of Oliver! hit exactly the right note.

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