Lionel Bart’s, Oliver was bought to Stoke-On-Trent on 17th October 2023 by Staffordshire’s Stage Productions. The stage was transformed into a Dickensian dream, or nightmare, you decide. The set and lighting was perfect for the musical and a special mention has to go out to Ali Spender for the costuming decisions, as the costumes presented on stage were professional standard and transported the audience to Victorian London.
The singing was excellent from Shaylan Wright and Kayleigh Ann Strong as Artful Dodger and Nancy in their performance of “Consider Yourself”, their relationship was heartwarming, playful and was committed with their consistent use of facial expression, accent and projection throughout the number. Shaylan and Kayleigh equally have a very bright future ahead of them if this is the level of performance they can bring to Stoke-On-Trent, just imagine what they could bring to the West End and beyond.
Additional shining examples within the show has to be Fagin’s gang who were brilliantly cast, especially little Nipper, played by Ernie Winster, who bought the comedic relief and left the audience “ooh-ing” and “ahhh-ing” each time they entered the space. I would also like to commend the relationship between Simeon Green and Rosemary Gresty as Mr Bumble and Widow Corney, they had me laughing out loud during their performance of “I shall scream!”, they presented as flirty teenagers, which bought a lighter moment to an otherwise quite bleak narrative. Sarah Mould as Mrs Sowerberry was a knock out in “That’s your funeral”, a real standout performer in that song.
There are, however, inconsistencies within the show’s direction. The opening number, “Food, Glorious Food” fell a little flat. With the sheer number of children on stage I expected a much more powerful rendition of this song, but it lacked the energy needed to open the show. Which was disappointing and did not set the tone for the rest of the musical.
Act 2 opened with “Oom-pah-pah” and gave me what I felt was lacking in the opening of Act 1, which was energy, commitment and enthusiasm, I wholeheartedly believe this was as a result of the song being led by Kayleigh, who, if I haven’t already mentioned, was perfect for the role of Nancy. It was also a standout moment for the ensemble. The relationship between Sam Hands as Bill Sykes and Kayleigh as Nancy made me feel uneasy as we watched the tumultuous relationship unfold. Another brilliant casting, as Sam made for a convincing ‘baddie’ with the gruff voice, and snarling face to match.
Kayleigh’s performance of “As long as he needs me” was heartbreaking, raw and goosebump-worthy. For a sole performer to be on an empty stage, her voice and character sure filled every inch of available space. Jaws were dropped and for good reason. Wow.
A final positive from me, has to go to Jonathan Cliffe and each member of the orchestra, who’s playing didn’t falter once throughout the evening, I particularly enjoyed “reviewing the situation”.
Aside from a deflated opening, a minor issue with Mrs Bedwin’s microphone in Act 2 and poor preparation with the bows. This was a strong performance, with some absolutely brilliant standout performers. This is a fantastic opportunity to see some local theatre
Oliver is being performed at The Regent, Stoke-On-Trent until Saturday 21st October 2023.