Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Review: Oliver! at the Watermill Theatre

Watermill Theatre
Reviewed on Monday 17th August 2015

When a show such as Oliver! is produced time and time again things tend to become a little predictable. However, Luke Sheppard's new actor-musician production at the Watermill Theatre brings something different to the table. Not only do the small cast double up as various characters throughout, but they are also constantly picking up countless instruments to accompany themselves.

Actor-musician productions have become increasingly popular over the last couple of years; I've seen a fair few and it's safe to say that some work better than others. Interestingly Oliver! lends itself perfectly to an actor-musician set up; the group numbers, in particular 'Consider Yourself' and 'Who Will Buy', work a treat with the cast bouncing around with various instruments, bringing them to life. 

The orchestrations and way in which music is used throughout the show is hugely impressive and highly effective. Sheppard's production flows smoothly.

This was my first time at the Watermill in Newbury which is the most blissfully peaceful theatre I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. The grounds are stunning and the atmosphere inside the auditorium is truly special. 

Although at times the stage did look a little bare, the cast work hard and the children's ensemble perform with great energy. The show's younger stars also impressed throughout with huge personalities,  

Taking the show to the next level are West End talents Cameron Blakely and Alice Fearn who play Fagin and Nancy. Blakely has a ball; his weird and wonderful quirks are hilarious - his performance has all the necessary ingredients of a brilliant Fagin. Blakely's rendition of 'Reviewing the Situation' marks one of the evening's biggest highlights.

Fearn is sublime as Nancy, she is feisty and you truly believe the intense loyalty she has for Bill. Fearn owns 'It's A Fine Life' and 'Oom Pah Pah' before making her mark with a rousing performance of 'As Long As He Needs Me'. A special mention must also go to Susannah Van Den Berg who stands out throughout, stealing scenes as a strong character actress. 

Oliver! is packed full with iconic numbers, it's impossible not to come out humming 'Consider Yourself'. Remarkably Sheppard has found a different direction to take the show in, and the sold out Monday night crowd certainly had the time of their lives.

Reviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Oliver! runs at the Watermill Theatre until 19th September 2015.
Please visit www.watermill.org.uk for further information and tickets.

Photo Credit: Philip Tull

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