STAGE: Oliver The Musical – Theatre Royal York

60 years ago, one of the most told stories on the stage, Oliver! opened in the West End in London. Last week, the York Light Opera company, returned to York’s Theatre Royal, for the 60th year running to perform that very show.

Based on the classic Charles Dickens novel, Lionel Bart’s Oliver The Musical sees the streets of Victorian England come to life with the timeless story of the boy who dared to ask for more. Oliver! is a timeless theatrical production with songs known world-over and it was great seeing so many people of different ages coming out to watch an amateur theatre production on a Tuesday evening. Unfortunately though, it seemed that many left disappointed and there were several seats left empty for the second half of the show.

Now I’m no theatre critic; I’m a fan of theatre and an avid writer, so my words shouldn’t be taken as gospel, but this was the first show I’ve seen in over two years that hasn’t left me feeling anything in particular. One thing that’s so great about the York Light Opera Company is the opportunity it provides to the people of York to come together with their love of musical theatre. The production was brilliant I have to say and the staging of the streets stood out but it was the script, the singing and the way in which the story was told that made this not as enjoyable as it should have been.

One thing I did appreciate and you have to consider it always, was the choreography and the tenacity of a set of young boys and actors to nail their tracks in terms of movement. Throughout, there was rarely a foot put wrong when it came to the dancing much in part down to (insert choreographer) and the cast looked like they were having real fun which is what this is all about.

From the start though, the singing was off-key and it took simply too long to get to the, show redeeming, Fagin (Rory Mulvihill). Each scene was rather slow and compared to other versions of Oliver! seen on stage in recent times, rather behind the times and uncomfortable to watch. Mr Bumble’s scenes were rather distasteful and the lack of vision to try and make the narrative more contemporary was unfortunate.

You always take amateur productions for what they are though of course, and there were some parts that were admirable; the musicianship was on point and as mentioned, the staging was believable but with this one and the choreography was at times, almost perfect. One thing about Oliver! is everyone knows the tracks and having that in your artillery, always makes up for the times when the narrative runs slow.

Every song is a classic yet the crowd seemed muted from the off; maybe that was a fault of the audience that evening, but it certainly didn’t help. There was no sense of “wow” about the show and even Nancy and Oliver’s relationship couldn’t redeem this version. The most energetic reaction, in the first half, was when Bill Sykes’ dog Bullseye came out for the first time. Sykes” performance was solid and certainly didn’t let the side down but it was the real-life Bullseye that got people talking during the break and at the end.

This was far from a horror show, and it was a show I did still recommend to others but they had similar feelings to me. It was fine, and that was about it. For what it is, a platform for young amateurs to live their dream and have some fun, it was brilliant, and I certainly always admire anybody who gets up on stage, but maybe this was the wrong play. Oliver! seems dated, and not a show for 2020 and I am looking forward to seeing what the production crew do next year for their 61st effort!

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