★★★★★ Lionel Bart’s glorious musical is an extraordinary mixture of the dark and the life-enhancing. It’s as if he’s channelling Dickens in his words and music to retell the genuinely thrilling and affecting story of the young orphan’s adventures in the cruel world of 19th-century London.
See it as you’ve probably never seen it before, in an intimate space that brings you right into the workhouse and Fagin’s den, here wonderfully suggested by a veritable ceiling of handkerchiefs. Bart of course rises magnificently to the challenge of creating the character of Fagin, the "kind old gentleman" so intent on of giving street urchins a useful trade. And the Watermill’s Cameron Blakely magnificently rises to the challenge of both following in the tradition begun by the late, great Ron Moody and making Fagin his own. It’s fascinating to notice though, that in his (worryingly sympathetic) “Reviewing the Situation”, he does not use the Jewish "questioning" fall for the line, “So at my time of life I should start turning over new leaves?" I’m guessing it might be because he thinks that was Moody’s way with the line and he should not copy it, rather than a question built in by Bart. But go see for yourself – if you can beg, borrow or pick a pocket for a ticket!
By Judi Herman
To read more about this glorious production, its multi-talented cast and the joy of joining in with "Oom Pah Pah" see Judi Herman's full review at Whatsonstage.com.
Oliver! runs until Saturday 19 September. 7.30pm & 2.30pm. £17.50-£30. The Watermill Theatre, Bagnor, RG20 8AE; 016 354 6044. www.watermill.org.uk