Bristol Hippodrome

Oliver! January 2013

Oliver! opened at the Bristol Hippodrome this week and it is a brilliant feast of a show.

Lionel Bart’s Oliver! first opened in London in June 1960 and in its many guises from the fabulous Nailsea School student production in December 2010 it has been thrilling audience.

But the Bristol show with its 50-strong cast is a glorious blockbuster.

From the opening workhouse scene when a Mark Lester-lookalike asks for more and the cast burst into song with Food, Glorious, Food to the closing moments which sees a dejected Fagin shuffling off into the sunset this was a sit-up in your seat and take notice musical hit.

Character actor Neil Morrissey who is probably best known as Tony in the hugely successful TV series Men Behaving Badly plays Fagin, the miserly fence known for his insincere utterances like 'certainly my dear' and ‘I am reviewing the situation’.

With some of the biggest names in show business having played the role, from Ron Moody to Roy Hudd, the Bob the Builder voiceover star had a hard act to follow but he was great.

Living with his little pickpockets in an east London lair he teaches this motley band of street urchins how to steal, drink gin and sing and dance.

Not quite as grotesque and threatening as other Fagin’s Neil Morrissey is balanced by a really bad Bill Sikes played by Iain Fletcher whose portrayal and body language is very much like a young Oliver Reed.

His brute of a dog Bullseye added to the fear factor.The Artful Dodger as usual was adorable but among the juniors the real scene stealer with his 'gangnam-style' dancing is Nipper, the smallest boy in the troupe.

With a three teams of child actors taking turns to perform the night I attended Oliver was played admirably by Sebastian Croft and Dodger by an equally talented Daniel Huttlestone.

The misty Dickensian set with its wooden gantry and walls daubed with bible quotes to the backdrop of St Paul's and the gentrified Bloomsbury houses of Oliver's benefactor were fantastic.

The ashen faces of the miserable undertakers Mr and Mrs Sowerberry (David Langham and CJ Johnson) weren't going to win any prizes for employers of the year.

But there were lovely touches by the players like the tall and lanky funeral director holding his umbrella on high to elongate his silhouette and the 'worthless' taunts of underling Noah Claypole (Steve Hutchinson) resounded around the theatre.

Other atmospheric scenes include the razzmatazz of the travelling circus in the Georgian square with jugglers, acrobats, clowns and a weight-lifter which contrasted with the bare-knuckle fighters in the dingy Three Cripples dockland bar with its short flash of colour from the can-can skirts of the goodtime girls.

Comedian Eddie Large and his wife Patsy who live in Portishead were among the audience on Thursday night.

Eddie says his number one musical of all time is Les Miserables and he had only just seen the new film at the weekend.

"But this show is fabulous and it is a absolute delight to find Samantha Barks who was Eponine in the film and stage version of Les Misérables playing Nancy," he said.

The BBC I’ll Do Anything finalist is perfect as the bighearted prostitute - loud, loveable and vulnerable - she gets my vote as the star of the show.

Young Master Huttlestone also landed a part in the film as Gavroche a Parisian street boy.

Bath Chronicle reporter Laura Tremelling, who lives in Clevedon, said: "I had a great evening watching Oliver!"Neil Morrissey was fabulous as Fagin and Stephen Moore was in it - the dad from The Queen's Nose - a blast from the past."

Stephen Moore who plays Mr Parker is the CBBCs hit is eventually revealed as Oliver's granddad Mr Brownlow.

He was the original voice of Marvin the Paranoid Android from way back when The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy was on the wireless.

A brilliant Mr and Mrs Bumble (Jack Edwards and Claire Machin) enjoy some pre-wedding saucy flirting before the big bang reality check which is nothing like wedded bliss.

With a splash of mother's ruin behind her ears the saucy Claire Machin sounded like a tyrannical Eth Glum from the 1950s radio show to her eager to please man-wearing-tights partner in crime Jack Edwards.

Full marks to the cast, musicians, set and costume designers and director Laurence Connor for a first class show – catch-it while you can.

Carol Deacon

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