Published January 15, 2009

It is only the second week of January and already the West End has seen one of the biggest first nights of 2009, as the hugely anticipated revival of Oliver! opened at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.

As one would hope from a show with so much expectation surrounding it, this revival of Oliver!, which stars Rowan Atkinson as Fagin alongside I’d Do Anything winner Jodie Prenger as Nancy, is nothing if not ambitious. From the first workhouse scene, where the stage is packed to its grime-ridden rafters with malnourished kids, the sheer scale of the staging is apparent.

With three Laurence Olivier Award-winning directors credited with its creation – original director Sam Mendes, revival director Rupert Goold and choreographer and co-director Matthew Bourne – could it be anything else?

While many eyes were on reality show winner Prenger – whose gin-addled tones help create a warm Nancy who, though worn down by time, still finds joy in life, especially among kids – Atkinson is the star attraction.

Drawn back to the stage by this particular role, his playful Fagin at times has a touch of Mr Bean or Blackadder about it. Leaning more towards the paternal rather than the sinister side of the character, he revels in the role, delighting, in particular, in the physical and lingual comedy of Reviewing The Situation.

Of the kids – who, as a large group, show remarkable talent and give hope for a happy future for British musical theatre – Harry Stott delivers a pure, unsullied Oliver, while Ross McCormack is the very essence of the Artful Dodger, instantly likeable, cheeky, chirpy, with an air of cockiness that never grates.

Even with Prenger and Atkinson stealing the headlines, and with lauded performers including Julian Bleach and Julian Glover in cameo roles, nothing is bigger than the production as a whole. Bourne’s choreography is perfectly conceived for every routine; sharp and downtrodden in the workhouse, all joyfully exuberant knees and elbows in the crowd pleasing Consider Yourself. Anthony Ward’s remarkable set fully utilises the depth and height of the Drury Lane stage to create rooftops and sewers, upper class mansions and dockside hostelries.

Goold currently has a golden touch when it comes to his London productions. Sales reports suggest you now have to pick a pocket or two to get a ticket, so for now for the director it continues to be a fine life.


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