Monday, 30 December 2013

Oliver, Sheffield Crucible 14/12/13

Sheffield Crucible have set themselves a high standard over the last few years with their Christmas musical offerings. There was the wonderful ‘Company’ in 2011, the breathtaking ‘My Fair Lady’ in 2012, and this year they have chosen the Lionel Bart Classic ‘Oliver’ for our entertainment and it certainly doesn't disappoint.
There was a deserved packed house when I visited, noticeably a lot more children in the audience than I have seen before, it's probably a welcome break from the standard panto outing for parents, and a well known and well loved musical for almost all ages. The combination of matinee audiences, excitable kids on sugar highs who knew people in the youth cast, and continual biscuit, sweet and crisp chomping surrounding me did make for a slightly distracting experience initially, but the spectacle on stage soon won out, and it's probably the one time I have actually been grateful for slightly over generous sound levels!

The stage and costume design is amazing. From the dark depressing workhouse, to the bright chaos of Fagin’s den, the stage is cleverly and seamlessly transformed before your eyes. And the costumes were beautiful, sumptuous deep colours blending with the muted tones of the streets, the drabness of the poorhouse contrasting with the the crisp bright colours of the more upmarket streets.
An excellent cast deliver a clever, fast paced and exuberant performance which includes some brilliant ensemble pieces, the act one finisher "Be Back Soon" and act two opener " Oom Pah Pah " being particular favourites for me.  Whilst the production has all the joy and humour you would expect, it doesn't shy away from the darker themes in the text, the hypocrisy of the moneyed classes when 'helping' the poor, the harshness of life and reliance on gin to take the edge off the hunger, the brutality of Bill Sykes and the tragic conflict of Nancy's life.

A mention should go to the excellent young performers who portrayed Oliver, Dodger, the workhouse children and Fagin’s gang (on my visit Jack Skilbeck-Dunn, Jack Armstrong and Blue team) They were just brilliant, very professional, sparkling performances, some lovely detail. They've clearly worked very hard and there are definitely some stars of the future in that lot.

The stand out performance for me in this production was Hayley Gallivan as Nancy. An astonishingly powerful voice, combined with terrific acting which really portrayed the complexities of her character. Her performance of 'As Long As He Needs Me' was simply stunning and heartbreaking.

So yes, Crucible Theatre, once again you have provided the perfect Christmas treat and made me glad I made the effort of a trip across from my usual stomping ground to see you. I'm pretty sure I'll 'be back soon'.

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