Oliver! at the Theatre Royal TNT theatre review

Whatever you think of the man and his music, there’s no doubting that Andrew Lloyd Webber really knows how to market a show.

The hunt for a new Dorothy to go skipping down the yellow brick road next year, looking for The Wizard of Oz, drew to an emotional close over the weekend (the box office is apparently booming) and the publicity generated by his previous TV search for unknown talent has already ensured the success of Rupert Goold’s restaging of Sam Mendes’ 1994 production of Oliver!, Lionel Bart’s perennial favourite dating back to 1960..

After over a year, the “I’d do Anything” winner, Jodie Prenger, with her larger than life personality, has handed over the coveted role of Nancy and moved on to other projects. But with those wonderful songs (it’s impossible to leave the theatre without at least one number buzzing insistently in one’s brain), a host of hungry orphans singing the praises of Food Glorious Food, and a gaggle of light-fingered urchins who think It’s A Fine Life, this family show will always be bigger than any individual element.

Anthony Ward’s design is terrific – narrow, gloomy Victorian streets descend to Fagin’s subterranean lair, festooned with pick-pocketed handkerchiefs, or open out to the bright, airy vista of wealthy Mr. Brownlow’s fashionably spacious abode.

Griff Rhys Jones’s Fagin is more avuncular, less sinister, than one might expect, though his vocals are clear. And Kerry Ellis (the new Nancy) needs a touch more passion and exuberance as she Oom-Pah-Pahs through the Three Cripples’ Public House.

The bones of Dickens’ novel are there, though sanitised. But, who can resist the heart-rending poignancy of As Long As He Needs Me, the plangent Who Will Buy? as it blossoms into life-affirming joy, or Fagin craftily Reviewing the Situation when he realises his life of crime is no longer going to pay?


Theatre Royal Drury Lane Catherine Street WC2B 5JF (Charing Cross/Covent Garden tube)
0844 482 5157
Currently booking till 26 Feb 2011

Louise Kingsley