Lionel Bart's runaway success story Oliver! hits the stage in Southsea's Kings Theatre this week, in Portsmouth Players superbly slick and professional production. Premiering in London's West End in 1960, Oliver! has wowed audiences for decades, enjoying countless revivals along the way. This in fact also marks Portsmouth Player's fourth production of the show since 1985.
Technically, the show was visually and audibly delicious. Atmospheric lighting design by Alex Musgrave brought the dingy pestilence of early 19th century London to life, while the orchestra, expertly led by Musical Director Darren Alderton, delivered superbly crisp music at every stage, with the string section being of particular note.
As to be expected, opening night was not without its teething problems. Actors occasionally failed to hit their light, set pieces were at times uncooperative, and the odd musical cue was missed, albeit professionally recovered and relatively unnoticed. The biggest problem with this production however, is picking out the star of the show. There were little-to-no weak links within this dedicated company, and each delivered a unique and varied character.
Edward Chase and Jacqueline Willis were wickedly naughty as Mr and Mrs Sowerberry, with just the right amount of Panto in their performance. Jenny Edwards, Kerry Gilgannon, Rachel Dean and Ryan Weeks gave a stunning vocal performance in Who Will Buy, as their individual market sellers. Chris Murray as hunky yet violently dangerous Bill Sykes gave the show the fear and change in pace that is so familiar with fans, with a vocal quality that can make the hairs on your arms stand up. In a stark contrast, Harry Fitzgerald as cheeky chappy Artful Dodger, gave the role everything it deserved and more. With a vocal quality that can bring a smile to anyone's face, and a certain bounce in his step, there was never a dull moment with Fitzgerald on stage.
This show however belongs to its most iconic double act, Nancy and the titular character Oliver, and boy did they deliver. Kayleigh Pendry as Nancy was nothing short of electrifying on stage. Her sense of motherly love with the boys was beautifully balanced, showing both a playful side as well as a fierce animal-like sense of protection over them all when threatened. Not forgetting of course, what could be regarded as Oliver!'s most iconic song 'As Long As He Needs Me', Pendry exquisitely delivered both vocally and dramatically. Casper Horn as Oliver was, to put it simply, outstanding. So young yet showing such a maturity on stage, with angelic vocal tones to boot and a wonderfully endearing innocence. Certainly a rising star to look out for.
If you can excuse he occasional glitch here and there, which are most likely to be ironed out as the run continues, then this is a Portsmouth Players show that is certainly not to be missed.