Oliver!, Grange Park Opera, GPO, June 2016Posted on 4 June 2016
Sheer joy! And the second night audience increasingly responded to this marvellously staged musical, so that by the time the cast gave us a warmly spontaneous rendition of Consider Yourself they clapped along with the music.
Spontaneity from the cast too. When the boys dance in time it is surely because Fagin has taught them the steps, and when Oliver joins in he seems to be learning them as he goes. Light and nimble on his feet, world-renowned baritone Simon Keenlyside made an eminently believable Fagin, a joyously stern ruler of his own small kingdom, but fearful of the world outside and the threatening presence of Simon Lipkin’s excellent Bill Sikes. Contrasting the darkness of Sikes’s world, penetrated only by acute worry that the new boy will lead the authorities to their lair, is the glorious presence of Jodie Jacobs as his loving moll Nancy, a cheerful force of nature exuding earthiness and huge warmth. Her soliloquy As Long As He Needs Me, following the jolly Oom-pa-pa tavern humour at the start of the second half, brought the house down.
As an antidote to the more intellectual qualities of failed operas that the country’s foremost opera house occasionally stages, this is perfection. The production by Jean-Pierre van der Spuy, with marvellous designs and lighting by Richard Kent and David Plater, creates an atmosphere of good-humoured ribaldry that never once leeches into kitsch or morbid sentimentality. The boys were superb, led by Charlie Barnard executing wonderful dance steps as the Artful Dodger, and Wesley Kent-Hargreaves showing eager willingness and a feisty nobility as Oliver himself.
Fine performances from other cast members, with Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts as Mr. Bumble, and excellent diction and suitable obnoxiousness from Sophie-Louise Dann as workhouse mistress and Gareth Snook as undertaker, and later doctor to the hugely engaging Mr Brownlow, so well portrayed by Paul Bentley. The movement and bustle, the ever-so-natural choreography, and the players appearing around the auditorium for Who Will Buy, were hugely effective, as were Bill Sikes’s physical affronts, including a very nasty hit in the face for Nancy. On London Bridge at the end we are preserved from the horrible effects of his bludgeoning her to death, though the action itself remains visible in the moonlight.
Terrific playing by the orchestra under the baton of Adam Rowe, and a triumph for Simon Keenlyside as a hugely genuine Fagin. A final reprise of some of the songs after the curtain calls completed a wonderfully enjoyable evening, allowing the audience to leave on a high.
Performances continue on various dates until July 2 — for details click here.