Oliver! will be much darker, says director Evans

Sheffield Theatre's Production of Oliver!
Sheffield Theatre's Production of Oliver!
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After last year’s smash-hit Christmas musical, My Fair Lady, director Daniel Evans finds himself with a hard act to follow as he prepares to put Oliver! on the Crucible stage.

It is another immensely popular family musical with a string of hit tunes but is a very different kind of show, says Sheffield Theatres’ artistic director.

“Although parts of the action take place in the same city, there’s a very different tone. This is much, much darker.”

Lionel Bart’s musical is, of course, based on Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist which exposes the poverty of the workhouse and the squalor of the city involving a feral gang of child pickpockets and a man brutally murdering his lover.

“Even though Lisa Dolittle in My Fair Lady was on the streets I don’t think she succumbed to prostitution whereas here we are talking about prostitution, child prostitution, kidnapping, you name it,” continues Evans.

“It is a family show and will be so but at the same time it is important for us to explore the darker sides to it, then I think we’ll have a richer evening.”

And though we can take comfort this is a Dickensian world, aspects of it have not gone away. “In our discussions in rehearsal we keep finding things that are still making news - trafficking and the sex trade for kids.”

The music helps to lighten the tone. “The songs are brilliantly contrasted with the terrible situations, so we have a balance between the cheeriness and the darkness,” reflects Evans.

Everyone seems to know these songs, probably because of the film, suggests the director. “It’s a bit of a double bind because people come expecting exactly that and it’s our job to find new things and re-explore it and re-examine it to look at it afresh and treat it as if it was a new piece of work.”

Oliver! differs from My Fair Lady also in having a wider group of characters, “You start in a provincial workhouse with people who don’t live in the capital city and what’s interesting is the difference in their reactions to Oliver from those in London. It is a musical with two distinct locations and it’s partly about town and country.”

It also has the effect of being less of a star vehicle and that’s a good thing, he says. “Hayley Gallivan who is playing Nancy has just been in Wicked in the West End and a little like Carly Bawden last year she is going to be a star of the future. I find that as exciting as working with people who are box office draws. And last year we saw that audiences also find it exciting.”

Another challenge is working with the 60 young performers. “It has meant doing 12 hour days as we do evening sessions and Saturday mornings with the kids, but it’s exciting.”

Oliver! runs at the Crucible from November 29 to January 25