Oliver! – Forth Children’s Theatre

Book, Music & Lyrics by Lionel Bart

Directed by Lewis C. Baird

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Think you know the tale of the young Orphan left behind to fend for themselves in the workhouse? Not a chance. Pull up a seat, pour yourself a gin or three, and get ready for a telling of the story with the pizzazz, energy, and dedication it ought to. Like many others, after a brief hiatus – Forth Children’s Theatre strike the iron hard, bringing Lionel Bart’s Oliver! To the masses of Edinburgh, and if the sold-out venue wasn’t the first indication of something special – well, you’re obviously lacking a keen eye.

The tale of the boy for sale who wanted some extra gruel for his starving belly, who finds himself amongst a gang of pickpockets is a literary classic and adapted numerous times, now finding itself with a new master – and from the set-dressings to costume, the Dickensian definitive certainly looks the part. From stellar vocals, impressive comedic timing, and choreographed routines to raise the Church rafters, Oliver! may seem a relic of Musical Theatre’s past but is alive, and utterly ravenous for more.

But what of Oliver themselves? Perhaps, FCT has one last Twist to share.

Sharing the role are two young women, Martha Broderick, and Isla Swain, and this evening we were lucky enough to appreciate the sincerity and touching performance of Broderick who displays a dedication that many professionals would envy. Flowing through the cast Broderick channels awe with the audience as we meet this veritable cast of rogues and scoundrels. None more so than Honor Llewellin’s Artful Dodger, as cheeky as ever, but with a deliciously Scot’s twang to the pickpocket’s range.

The pair demonstrate a lot of the heart of the show, with the humour and tension left with others, but that doesn’t stop Broderick and Llewellin from demonstrating their choreographed talents, with Llewellin’s relationship with Mhairi Smith’s Nancy an additional layer of worldbuilding as Fagin’s favourite duo.

And upon reviewing the situation, Colin Wake finds that their time on stage is never quite enough, and the audience couldn’t agree more. Darting around, jumping from Underkeeper’s assistant Noah to Oliver’s Grandfather Mr Brownlow to the one, the only, the itchy thumbed marvel who is Fagin. Deceptive yet charismatic, this one-time antagonist has become a firm favourite with audiences – and Wake doesn’t let down. Balancing both the expectant miser-nature of the crook, with a relatable concern for their wellbeing, Wake’s acting chops are only matched by his capabilities with a cane.

Stepping in not only as Mr Bumble at regular intervals, but Dance Captain Bobby Duncan makes their presence felt throughout the evening, rallying the ensemble dance numbers to highlights of the performance, firm footed and precise. Sharing Dance Captain responsibilities, Kaitlyn Frew joins Duncan in elevating the production, channelling their energy into the audience well after the curtain falls. The large ensemble sequences are a joy of merriment to witness, bombastic and capture the musicality and timelessness of Bart’s original production.

And while the choreographed sequences edge out the become the spectacle of the show, Mhairi Smith’s vocals as dear ol’ Nancy are a special treat for the audience. Possessing not only the required jovial oomph of a merry Bar chant but tenderness and brilliance to carry As Long As He Needs Me to scatter any trivial natterings that a children’s production lacks the decency and skill for raw emotion. And mercifully balancing the grim and gritty harshness of Nancy’s abusive relationship with the truly awful Bill Sykes, the production recognises the necessity of not just comedy, but conscientious humour.

Enter the likes of Duncan, Frew, Joe Tulloch and the absolutely no right to be this funny Erin Munro – who turns the lesser antagonistic role of Widow Corney into a crowd-pleaser with her expressive mannerisms, and deft delivery to the ire of her unfortunate husband Bumble.

Now, there is a spot or two of gruel to march through – as with the finale comes accelerated pacing, pushing the story towards a less-than-comfortable end, and though it may fall at the hands of direction where errors of pacing and levied tension arise, the cast of Oliver! rallies a lucrative amount of effort into the entire show, between scene shifts, musical cues and costume changes all come together as a self-reference of the production’s familial nature – all cemented by the cast reprisal of Consider Yourself.

Oliver! runs at the Edinburgh Tabernacle until April 23rd.

Tickets for which can be obtained here.

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