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The Theatreguide.London Review



Oliver!
Drury Lane Theatre 2009-2011


Oliver! is a nice, solid machine-made product. As long as you don't do something stupid to screw it up, it will deliver the same predictable level of entertainment, whether it's the original 1960 production, the 1993 revival, this new production, or the one your kid's school did.

Of course it will never be a life-changing or genre-stretching event, but it is a reliably harmless Fun Night Out. And this new production generally stays out of its way, so that you get pretty much what you come in expecting.

It's a Cameron Mackintosh production, which means the money is all up there on the stage - there's what seems like a hundred kids singing 'Food, Glorious Food' and no fewer than three bridges rising and lowering with people on them.

There's a recognised TV star, Rowan Atkinson, as Fagin and the winner of a TV competition, Jodie Prenger, as Nancy. Director Rupert Goold keeps things moving along, working within the outlines of Sam Mendes' 1993 staging, and choreographer Matthew Bourne stages a couple of lively dance numbers.

And yet the whole thing feels dreadfully tired and, well, second-rate.

Rowan Atkinson makes Fagin so comic and loveable - so safe - that he might as well be a thoroughly unbent scoutmaster. There is absolutely no edge to his performance, not even the hint of darkness.

Unlike Connie Fisher in The Sound of Music, Jodie Prenger turns out not to be a natural star. Her singing can be dreadfully muddy - I understood hardly a word of 'Oom-pah-pah' (even the ones I was supposed to understand), and with considerable help from the sound engineer, she rises to barely adequate in 'As Long As He Needs Me' - and if that song isn't chillingly wonderful, what's the point?

The role of Oliver is inevitably bland, though the one of the three alternating boys I saw, Harry Stott, seemed blanker than necessary, thoroughly outshone (as is almost always the case) by Eric Dobb-Fuller's lively and personable Artful Dodger. Burn Gorman hardly registers as Bill Sykes, and his death is particularly clumsily staged and unfrightening.

My 15-year-old guest, somewhat lass jaded than I, volunteered these observations: The fun parts of the show worked, and she liked Rowan Atkinson more than I did, but every attempt to be serious or moving or scary fell flat. Harry Stott was wooden, though Dobb-Fuller's Dodger was fun, and Jodie Prenger was a real disappointment, particularly in 'As Long.'

If an O.K. production of an O.K. musical is what you want, you can have absolute confidence that Oliver! will deliver exactly what you expect, no more or less. But almost every other musical in London today is better.

Gerald Berkowitz


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Review - Oliver - Drury Lane 2009