West End classic Oliver! returns to London in a majestic new production at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.
Read a round-up of reviews
ON THE MATERIAL
Telegraph: “It’s a travesty of Dickens. It’s absolutely fantastic showbiz.”
Guardian: “Not even the expertise of the staging and a handful of fine performances can disguise the essential thinness of this piece of deodorised musical Dickens…. But although this is sanitised Dickens, Bart manages to write some thumping good tunes and provide scope for individual actors.”
BN: “Bart’s songs may be unsophisticated and the rhymes sometimes feeble (“where oh where is love, does it fall from skies above?”), but they’re so tuneful and put over such elan that last night’s audience rightly cheered Consider Yourself, You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two and several others.”
ON THE CAST
Please note: The role of Fagin is now played by Omid Djalili.
The Stage: “Djalili might not appear to be the most obvious choice for Fagin, but any doubts that miscasting may have taken place are soon put aside. Djalili puts his stand-up comedy skills to great use in scenes where he appears to be ad-libbing, making jokes about politicians’ expenses and the banking crisis, and, as you might expect, he demonstrates perfect comic timing”
Telegraph: “Rowan Atkinson is both sinister and hilarious as Fagin… Jodie Prenger, brings a warmth to the stage you could warm your hands by, and wrings every last ounce of emotion from that deeply dodgy celebration of wife beaters, As Long as He Needs Me.”
Guardian: “Rowan Atkinson turns in a sprightly, distinctive performance… Atkinson also plays up the character’s sexual ambiguity…. If this revival is worth catching, it is largely for Atkinson’s saturnine comic presence. The biggest fuss, of course, has been about the casting of Jodie Prenger as Nancy on the strength of TV’s I’d Do Anything competition. The good news is that she acquits herself extremely well.”
Independent: “He’s funniest when fingering his stolen gems, or kicking his legs above his head in a sideways exit. But he’s not a malevolent, gleeful, stage-hogging, dubiously paedophiliac monster that you long for and Lionel Bart wrote, even if Charles Dickens didn’t. The moment Prenger appears, I’m afraid, the heart sinks. She seems to be hiding from the audience. Her voice is okay, but she can’t act and she doesn’t have the depth of lung power to fill a plastic bag, let alone a West End theatre on a nightly basis.”
Times: “all credit to Atkinson for giving Fagin at least as much menace as Jonathan Pryce and Robert Lindsay, who were superlative in Sam Mendes’s revival of the musical 14 years ago….And did Jodie Prenger, who won the role of Nancy in one of those deplorably sadistic television contests, justify her choice? I must admit she did. Initially she struck me as parading, posturing, performing rather than acting, but she went on to prove herself a tough, coarse, credible presence with a big, robust voice — and that’s all that is needed. “
Mail: “Rowan Atkinson, playing that warped scout master Fagin, was the eyebrow-wriggling, funny-walking, laugh-wringing supremo of the show last night… Jodie Prenger, who won the part of the doomed, decent Nancy in a primetime BBC1 talent show, stands up to the test like a sturdy galleon.”
Mirror: “Jodie Prenger took to the West End stage last night and claimed the bright lights of the big city for her own… Rowan Atkinson brought a touch of Blackadder and Mr Bean to gangmaster Fagin.”
ON THE TECHNICAL
Telegraph: “It seems even more polished this time, even more vigorously and inventively choreographed by Matthew Bourne, even more spectacularly designed. Anthony Ward’s beautiful, multi-level sets are both picturesque and brilliantly ingenious, whirling us round the handsome piazzas and dark alleys of London before taking us underground to Fagin’s lair.”
Guardian: “Goold stages it with fluent efficiency, and Anthony Ward’s sets, with their perspectives of St Paul’s and their sliding bridges, are handsome to look at.”
Independent: “Ward’s designs look better than they did in the Palladium.”
Times: “I can’t say that Rupert Goold, who is credited as the director, does much to reinvent Mendes’s production as I recall it, but he certainly gets plenty of energy out of his cast… [Anthony] Ward makes London a character in its own right: a looming St Pauls, swiftly moving and interlocking alleys, and a very Dickensian murk for Bill Sikes to run through.”
THE LAST WORD
Telegraph: “As most of us get poorer in coming months, this production is going to make producer Cameron Mackintosh even richer. It’s so enjoyable however that I find it impossible to grudge him a penny.”
Guardian: “For the most part, however, this is Dickens as jolly family entertainment stripped of the sense of solitude that has roots in the author’s own experience and that makes Oliver Twist such a disturbing novel.”
Independent: “A masterpiece is restored, but not in its fullest glory.”
Telegraph – Charles Spencer
Times – Benedict Nightingale
"As most of us get poorer in coming months, this production is going to make producer Cameron Mackintosh even richer. It's so enjoyable however that I find it impossible to grudge him a penny."
"For the most part, however, this is Dickens as jolly family entertainment stripped of the sense of solitude that has roots in the author's own experience and that makes Oliver Twist such a disturbing novel."
"A masterpiece is restored, but not in its fullest glory."
"His [Bart's] Oliver! remains as good and revivable as anything he wrote."
"It is pointless to say that Sir Cameron Mackintosh has a hit because advance ticket sales are already enormous, but last night's opening showed that its commercial success is deserved artistically."
"I'd Do Anything winner Jodie Prenger took to the West End stage last night and claimed the bright lights of the big city for her own."
"Oliver! is the perfect musical for our credit crunch times, packed with unhealthy school dinners, growing poverty and kids drawn to gang culture and crime. It will steal your heart. Please sir, can I have some more?"
"On the surface no expense has been spared in this much-anticipated staging of Lionel Bart’s Oliver!, a reinvention of Sam Mendes’ 1994 Palladium production. However, along the way one vital investment has been neglected, and that is in the dramatic and emotional depth of the piece."