Oliver Review

The Montgomery, Sheffield – until 30 June

Reviewed by Lottie Davis-Browne

4****

Every time I see an advertisement for Sheffield based theatre company Easy Street, I start singing the song of the same name from the 1982 musical Annie! Not only that I turn all “jazz hands” and start wishing I could physically kick my legs to one side and start copying the movie’s dance routine! You know you have an addiction to theatre when this happens……

However the latest instalment from Easy Street is the musical about the other rags-to-riches orphan – Lionel Barts’ adaptation of the classic Charles Dicken’s novel “Oliver!”, running from Wednesday 27th June to Saturday 30th June at The Montgomery Theatre.

Now in their ninth year, Easy Street Theatre Company has both a junior (up to Year 6) and a senior group, giving young performers in Sheffield a chance to be part of large productions. As they approach their tenth year, the company celebrates going from strength-to-strength as their team of young performers have increased over the years, putting their senior section at full capacity with a waiting list, and the junior section being close to full.

Oliver tells the story of a young orphaned boy in London, in the Victorian era. Oliver Twist is only hours old when he is orphaned following his mother’s death and taken to the local workhouse where this story starts, as we meet Oliver and his fellow workhouse orphans.

As the opening song “Food, Glorious Food” intro starts, the orphans enter the stage through the back of the aisles; these malnourished, dirty and disheveled young boys, forced to work long hours in Mr. Bumbles’ workhouse and live on a diet of gruel (that’s watered down porridge to you and I!). It’s meal time and the boys sit round long wooden tables with benches; above a wooden sign reads “God Is Love”, a measly portion of gruel is served and young Oliver approaches Mr. Bumble asking for more. Angered by this, cold hearted Mr. Bumble (Harry Foster-Major) decides enough is enough and takes to the streets to sell Oliver as a servant boy. Taken in by funeral director Mr. Sowerby (Jacob Broughton-Glerup) and Mrs. Sowerby (Hannah Prichard) young Oliver (is set to become an assistant, walking alongside the coffin bearers. That is until he gets into a fight and runs away. Soon he is picked up by a pickpocket who goes by the name of The Artful Dodger (Ben Storey) and taken to live with gang leader Fagin (Ethan Carley) and a load of other young pickpocket orphans.

Both the roles of Oliver and The Artful Dodger are shared between two boys (four boys in total), and this evenings two young leads certainly did not disappoint. Firstly, Benjamin Rossiter gave a splendid performance as the title character, his voice at times was angelic and he managed to hit most of those high notes, particularly in the more challenging songs such as “Where Is Love?” Ben Storey was equally charming and vocally mature, proving he could not only sing but dance and act – simultaneously too! Katherine Rice (“Nancy”) and Ethan Carley (“Fagin”) however were the real show stealers this evening.

Rice’s powerful vocals, especially in the solo “As Long As He Needs Me” were in another league; I’m sure it won’t be long until we are seeing Katherine Rice perform in bigger venues in even more challenging roles.

Carley’s Fagin was on dead ringer for Ron Moody’s portrayal in the 1968 movie adaptation. It was almost like they’d got Moody’s character on in hologram form because the similarities were uncanny. Carley was most definitely the highlight of the performance for me, and I am saddened to hear that this is his last role with Easy Street, but this can only lead to bigger and better things for Carley and I wish him every success for the future.

My only bug bear of this production was the major lack of scenery; the stage set was minimalist however this worked well but it was the over use of a cream back sheet for most of it. Surely with the amount of kids involved there’s enough budding artists to paint scenic backdrops to fit the scenes? Or how about having a separate section for kids set up for none performers who can learn everything from costume making to lighting and sound, front of house, advertising and media to stage sets and designs? This aside the level of performers has come on leaps and bounds since my last visit to an Easy Street production.

Tickets are still available, and at affordable prices meaning you won’t have to pick a pocket (or two!) to see this worthwhile performance.

For tickets please call the Montgomery Box Office on 0114 3273456.

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