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Review: OLIVER! at Newcastle Tyne Theatre

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Reviewing The Situation  

Newcastle Tyne Theatre & Opera House
Until Saturday 9th April 2016

Perhaps Oliver Twist is one of the most popular novels by Victorian author Charles Dickens. He was someone who tried to capture the hardship endured in those times, including that experienced by children. Is the reason why this story, in particular, is close to so many hearts down to the 1960 musical Oliver!, with music and lyrics by Lionel Bart? Perhaps the real longevity in the tale lies in the 1968 film which has been on television on a regular basis ever since. Here in Newcastle, a professional revival, with Brian Conley in the role of Fagin, is fresh in the memory of many.  This represents big shoes for tonight’s cast to fill.

The tale follows an orphan, Oliver Twist, who is sold to an undertakers after having the audacity to ask for more food at the orphanage. He is not happy in the way he is being looked after so he runs away and meets up with a slightly older, and much more streetwise, lad who calls himself the Artful Dodger. Together they form a friendship as they try to survive in unforgiving Victorian London.

The strong story is tied together with a collection of memorable songs that are very much a part of the national consciousness. The West End Operatic Society has put together a talented amateur cast that prove themselves to be highly capable in both the acting and singing departments.

The children were delightful. Callum Saddler, in the titular role, gave an emotional rendition of Where Is Love? The rest of orphans settled down quickly to give an assured performance of Food, Glorious Food, complete with choreography from Jenn Rouse. The ensemble would help carry many of the big production numbers, such as You’ve Got To Pick A Pocket Or Two.

One young chap who deserves special mention is Matthew Johnson who captured the fun side of the Artful Dodger in a performance that was one of the highlights of Act 1.

The adult cast members are fun to watch too. Michael Green’s strong operatic voice contrasted well with Katie Howes during I Shall Scream. Michael’s performance as Mr Bumble will be compared favourably to that of Harry Secombe in the film.

The humorous side of That’s Your Funeral is captured well by Justin Wardell and Melanie King as the undertakers Mr & Mrs Sowerberry.

The three key adult roles of Fagin, Bill Sykes and Nancy can cause a headache for those involved in casting.  Bill Sykes, for example, has to be much more than a panto villain. In the film Oliver Reed filled the screen with his menacing presence whenever he appeared. Andrew Fearon captures the disturbing figure well.

Last year saw the passing of Ron Moody whose finest hour, in my mind, was as Fagin in the fabulous solo Reviewing The Situation. The role is pivotal as Fagin is the axis between the adult and children. Brian Jordan comfortably fills these big shoes and owns this central role.

Nancy opens the second act with Oom-Pah-Pah. Caroline Sabiston puts her experience to great use in this popular song and she follows it with the powerful highlight As Long As He Needs Me. Caroline’s character was emotional during the second act. Fabulous singing coupled with the strength of character helped make the final stages a real treat.

Musical director Liam Gilbert and his tight band of musicians help keep the pulse of the show beating.  The use of live musicians is to be commended.

Director Ruth Barber has put together a tight production that pleased the packed Tyne Theatre crowd. It was pleasing to see many younger people making up the audience. Perhaps their only previous experience of theatre may have been pantomime, and good value shows, such as this, help open up theatre to a new generation.

The large cast had a good mix of acting and singing talent. The show was a pleasure to watch and it is well worth checking out.

During the week long run, the role of Oliver will be shared by Oliver Bake and Callum Saddler, the roleof Dodger will be shared by Matthew Johnson and Hayden Taylor.

Photos: Adrian Jackson Photography

This review was written by Stephen Oliver for Jowheretogo PR ( Follow Jo on twitter @jowheretogo, Stephen @panic_c_button or like Jowheretogo on Facebook

Read the original North East Theatre Guide preview:


Stalls £16, Grand Circle £18, Upper Circle £12, Gallery £9 (plus booking fees when booking online and over the phone)
The Tyne Theatre & Opera House Box Office is open 10am-3:30pm Monday to Friday and event days
Booking and Information Line: 0844 2491 000 (10am – 6pm Monday to Friday)
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