March Column: Arts Focus

March 01 2013

Bristol poet and author Deborah Harvey reviews Oliver! at The Bristol Hippodrome

March Column: Arts Focus

with Bristol poet and author Deborah Harvey

Oliver! at The Bristol Hippodrome

I was sceptical when I saw that Neil Morrissey was top of the bill in the latest touring production of Oliver! at the Bristol Hippodrome, playing the part of Fagin.  
There have been many memorable portrayals of the most celebrated fence in English literature over the five decades since Lionel Bart wrote his musical version of Dickens’ classic, and I wasn’t convinced that Morrissey, best known for his role as the comical Tony in Men Behaving Badly, could be sufficiently sinister to pull it
off. 

So it proved, with an ill-advised gag featuring dirty underpants and stinky bottoms, plus a reference to Bob the Builder, for which Morrissey provided the voice-over, only making matters worse.

Far more impressive were the exuberant cast of boys playing Fagin’s charges, in particular Daniel Huttlestone as the Artful Dodger and Sebastian Croft as the eponymous hero, Oliver. 

The star of the show, however, is Samantha Barks who plays Nancy despite only coming third in the televised competition to cast the role in 2008, and who, immediately after the run in Bristol ends, is off to Hollywood for the Oscars, having played Eponine in the film version of Les Miserables. 

Her portrayal of the feisty young woman who turns into a submissive, love-sick shadow of herself when confronted by her psychopathic lover, Bill Sikes, is by far the most dramatic part of the production. 

As for Sikes himself, here portrayed by Iain Fletcher in a one-dimensional fashion reminiscent of Oliver Reed in the film, there was no hint of any residual charm which such a man must once have possessed in order to snare his hapless lover. 

Nancy’s devotion made for disturbing viewing and I found myself leaving the auditorium hoping that every mother who had taken her daughter to see the show would take the time to tell her that there is nothing romantic or admirable about loving a bad man literally to death.