Review: Oliver! ★★★★★ – Judi Herman says "beg, borrow or pick a pocket for a ticket!"

oliver, watermill, 2015★★★★★ 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

Another loss for the original 1968 Oliver! cast – Ron Moody will be missed

Ron_Moody_and_Lord_Dahrendorf,_1975Ron Moody (left) with Lord Dahrendorf, 1975

"My proudest moment was the number Reviewing the Situation. I suspect that, because I gave my all to the role, and because I was working with such a fine team of people, it inhibited my future career. I turned down quite a few offers afterwards because I thought the people didn't come close to those I'd worked with on Oliver! which, in retrospect, was a mistake." – Ron Moody, 8 January 1924 – 11 June 2015.

Judi Herman reports on the recent death of actor Ron moody, one of the last remaining adult actors, bar Shani Wallis, from the 1968 musical Oliver!.

Readers will no doubt have heard a great deal over the last week about the long life of Ron Moody. Of course he is best known for his creation of Fagin, unforgettable for his gleeful physicality and for his musical phrasing. He relished rolling Bart’s delicious lyrics around his tongue, something I was lucky enough to experience live when I was not quite old enough to be in Fagin’s gang.

Much later on I went with Steve, my husband, to see him live in his one-man show at the also late-lamented Mermaid Theatre in London’s Puddle Dock. Doing a shtick about Hamlet, testing the audience's knowledge about Shakespeare’s play, he barked out the question: "Where did Hamlet live?" Moody had done a lot of stuff about the East End that night and before I could stop myself, I heard my voice yelling "Tower Hamlets!" After that there was no stopping Moody, he picked on me mercilessly for the next hour and I loved every minute of it (as did the rest of the audience). A true great, apparently sprightly right up to the end – he’ll be missed!