Friday, 1 April 2011

PMOS presents 'Oliver!', Glasgow King's Theatre, 29/3/11

I have never been a fan of Lionel Bart's 'Oliver!' having found it far too saccharine an adaptation of the novel. Even performing in the show in my college days did little to make it more attractive to me, although the second act was more dramatic and darker - always an appealing thing for me.

Director Alasdair Hawthorn, in the programme notes, writes that he had always wanted to bring the darkness and grit of the original book and the David Lean film into the typically light and frothy musical version which has always been an audience favourite.
The script in this production has been reworked slightly with Bill Sykes being introduced in a new scene in the first act. While this enables a sense of danger to be established earlier than usual the addition requires additional scene changes which sometimes interrupt the flow of the show, though I'm sure that this will be improved upon as the run continues.
The directorial concept continues with some of the character designs, many looking like some of the grotesques originally illustrated by George Cruickshank for the original serial.

The above shows Fagin as Dodger introduces Oliver to the gang. Utilising some clever make up Iain Usher's Fagin is both comedic and dangerous as he inhabits the illustration brought to life.

Usher's portrayal is effective and confident and the same can be said of all the cast including the Mr Bumble of Bob McDevitt and Patricia Welch's Widow Corney.

The exaggerated grotesqueness of the cast is perfectly displayed in the portrayal of the Sowerberry undertakers and their entourage who are all played to dark and comedic perfection led by Iain Condie and Susan Kernohan.

Judith Miller and Richard Magowan as Nancy and Bill Sykes, respectively, are both well presented and Magowan's portrayal is as dark as the production gets, his Irish accent bringing another air of freshness to the production.

The company of children are enchanting and Lawrence Clark as the Dodger is quite excellent, bringing a real sense of mischief and showmanship to the role.
Andrew Salmond's musical direction is top notch and much must be said about the work that he must have done on the score as the music and songs have all been reworked somewhat.

Although the show is certainly more than the sugar coated treat of old I don't feel that the production is as dark as I wish it were. Certainly there are moments but the nature of the songs, the script and, in this case, the lighting (which was a bit too broad at times) and to some degree the direction of the performances simply will not allow any real broad strokes of black. There were moments that dragged and the show did take a little while to get moving, but as I've previously noted, these are problems which will probably be rectified as the run goes on.
As an aside, I have always felt the reprise of 'Reviewing the Situation' to be a bit of an anti-climax end to the show, at least as always staged with Fagin vanishing into the sunset, and I have longed to see someone stage the fate of Fagin as per the novel, something which could lend itself, albeit as a dark and empty hope on Fagin's part, to that final reprise. But alas, I shall have to wait ...

Despite the flaws I enjoyed this presentation of 'Oliver!' more than I could ever have hoped, ironically because of the humour, although I did appreciate the attempt at revisiting the darker side of Dickens.
The work gone into preparing this production is evident and and kudos to all involved as they've certainly presented something that can stand out from all the numerous productions of this show, even if it perhaps doesn't quite live up to its artistic aims.

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