Oliver! Leeds Playhouse review 5 STARS

FROM Broadway to the West End and pretty much every theatrical outpost in-between the musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’s novel Oliver Twist has been thrilling generations for the best part of six decades.

But now the timeless classic has been re-invigorated in the most magical of productions under the skilful direction of Sunshine on Leith mastermind James Brining.

Prior to opening night the Leeds-born artistic director bristles at suggestions he’s been told the show is “as good as anything you can see in the West End”.

“World Class theatre should be available to anyone in Britain, no matter where you live. If it’s good enough for the West End then it’s good enough for Leeds. That’s what I believe.”.

And world class is certainly what he has delivered with a barnstorming, feel-good romp, that has the generation spanning audience singing along from the word go.

In the age of Netflix, YouTube and TikTok, surely only a minority of the youngsters packing the Playhouse’s Quarry auditorium have repeat watched the 1968 film adaptation of Lionel Bart’s stage masterpiece to have learned the songs by heart, but they are burned so deeply into the nation’s psyche they know them word for word anyway.

Food Glorious Food, Consider Yourself, You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two, I’d Do Anything, Oom-Pah-Pah, and of course Oliver! to name just a few – Crikey O’Reilly the humdingers just keep on coming.

The tale of course is not Dickens’ festive offering A Christmas Carol but instead tackles the less seasonal story of a young boy left orphaned when his mother’s dying act is to leave him in the hands of a Victorian workhouse. From there the poor child endures ongoing misfortune as he is sold into service at a funeral parlour but escapes ruthless bullies and heads to London where he falls into the hands of a Fagin’s feral gang of child pickpockets.

The show is staged ‘in the round’ and benefits from shunning hi-tech gadgetry that now dominate so many ‘family shows’, and instead relies on a superbly crafted stage design of platforms and staircases. This allows the actors to make use of every inch of what is the biggest theatre stage in Britain to deliver all the thrills and spills an audience needs.

The cast is jam-packed with a phenomenally talented array of children, with nine-year-old Nicholas Teixeira capturing hundreds of hearts on opening night as the vulnerable young orphan whilst Felix Holt is the perfect cheeky chappy Artful Dodger.

Steve Furst is equally outstanding as anguished villain Fagin whilst Chris Bennett’s thuggish Bill Sikes is a deeply unpleasant and darkly sinister character.

But amongst the stellar line-up it is Jenny Fitzpatrick, playing Sikes badly-abused lover Nancy, who manages to steal the show. Her spell-binding solo performance of As Long As He Needs Me is worth the ticket-price alone.

Seconds after the show reaches its ultimately joyful finale there is an almighty queue forming for the Box Office as people desperately try to book to see the show again.

“You want more?” joke the besieged Playhouse staff who are already preparing the sold-out signs. Book now or miss a treat. Consider yourself told.

Until January 27. Tickets: 0113 213 7700; leedsplayhouse.org.uk


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