Review: Oliver, Crucible Theatre, Sheffield

Sheffield Theatre's Production of Oliver!''Tom Edden as 'Fagin with the Blue team ensemble
Sheffield Theatre's Production of Oliver!''Tom Edden as 'Fagin with the Blue team ensemble

Evans delivers treat for festive season

Forget all the troubles of the world and sit back and enjoy a feelgood musical at the Crucible. Except, of course, it involves poverty, kidnapping, slavery, gangs and prostitution, one murder and a fatal shooting.

Director Daniel Evans promised a dark Oliver, and there are certain elements that nod to Charles Dickens’ great novel of social injustice, but Lionel Bart’s musical has so many upbeat tunes the cheeriness wins through.

So that designer Peter McKintosh’s seemingly austere set fronting the gloomy workhouse door which greets us is in no time filled with lively kids belting out Food Glorious Food but we are not allowed to forget the lavish meals served up to the rich burghers in contrast to the vat of steaming gruel slopped out to the urchins.

It might seem a risk that the big opening number is in the hands of the ensemble of 30 local youngsters but they come up trumps with boisterous singing and lively dancing that sets the tone.

The show is at its best with the big numbers on the busy London streets smoothly choreographed by Alistair David with a big brassy sound from the band under musical director Jonathan Gill.

Oliver is unusual in being a show where so many of the characters are mere cameos and the burden thus falls on the young boy at the heart of the story. No fears there. Jack Skilbeck-Dunn, playing Oliver on press night (Samual Bailey shares the role), carries a wonderful innocence and has a sweet voice while Jack Armstrong is a suitably insouciant Artful Dodger (a role played on other nights by Travis Caddy).

As to the grown-ups Tom Edden is an enigmatic Fagin but gloriously funny and his big numbers, Reviewing the Situation and You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two, are a delight. Ben Richards is a truly scary Bill Sikes introduced in sinister shadow and Hayley Gallivan a plucky Nancy who sings the dubious sentiments of As Long as He Needs Me with an angry defiance.

David Phipps-Davis struts around as a pompous beadle Mr Bumble who finds more than a match in Rebecca Lock’s blousy Widow Corney.

So once again, Daniel Evans has delivered to Sheffield yet another sumptuous Christmas treat.