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Oliver! Louth Playgoers. Riverhead Theatre Louth. 13 May 2023.

Updated: Jun 6

This week, Louth Playgoers finally manage to stage their revival of Lionel Bart's classic of musical theatre, Oliver! It has been a long time coming as it was originally scheduled for production in 2020 but, unfortunately, due to the pandemic the show was initially postponed and then eventually cancelled. However, after years of waiting they have finally managed to bring this joyful British classic to the stage and you will be delighted that they have!

The story is well-known, Oliver Twist is an orphan with attitude and on the evening I saw the show Harry Lord was playing the role which he shares with Theo Cooper. The cheeky young scamp dares to ask for more gruel from the overbearing Mr Bumble and is sold to an undertaker. Mr Sowerberry allows those under him to run rings around him causing further grief for Oliver, causing him to escape into the protection of Fagin via the attention of The Artful Dodger, played tonight by Maisie Evison (sharing the role with Macie-Rae Gordon). The story follows the trials and tribulations of Oliver as he simply asks the question "Where is love?" on his quest for a normal habits of the. He is tainted by the grubby underworld but is taken in by a benevolent old gent named Mr Brownlow who over time discovers Oliver's true identity. Will Oliver live happily ever after? You will discover when you see the show.

As the title character Harry Lord brought impish charm and a stubborn determination to the role of Oliver. His partner in crime, quite literally, is the Artful Dodger and Maisie Evison showed wonderful dance, vocal and character acting skills to the roll in a confident performance. Together, they head up a terrific chorus of child performers who bring amazing enthusiasm top the stage, filling the set with glorious energy that only young performers can bring. It is so inspiring to see the next generation of performers breaking through with these early career performances. The large children's chorus do so well each showing character and often exhibiting tremendous focus and character.

Within the adult cast, there are a number of winning performances. Some of the smaller roles provided opportunities for performers to shine with lovely performances from Stuart Vickers and Cheryl Lamming as the Sowerberrys, James Gosling as Noah, Ellie Johnson as Charlotte, Sophie Browne as Bet, Rosie Munyard as Mrs Bedwin, James Laverick as Dr Grimwig, Carol Skill as Old Sally, Katie Oakes as the rose seller (with a terrific singing voice on her featured solo), Abbie Dixon as the Milk Maid and Kev Campbell as the knife grinder.

Chris Rozier as Mr Brownlow is excellent and brings a believability to a role that is often underplayed. Linden Heaton brings memories of Harry Secombe as the blustering Mr Bumble with a strong singing voice and a menacing presence. Natasha Connor is hilarious as Widow Corney and really brings out the humour in the role. Ben Gilbert could not be further from his previous role as Shrek playing the hideously violent Bill Sykes. He is such a strong villain and really succeeds in scaring the audience, bringing an air of jeopardy to his treatment of those he bullies.

As Bill's ever-faithful, sweet-natured girlfriend Nancy, Sophie Burgess truly excels. Nancy is a beautiful girl with a heart of gold and a winning smile, who brings joy and light to those living in the shadows and Burgess brings all of those qualities to her performance and she will break hearts as she performs As Long As He Needs Me. This is a role she was born to play charming the audience and demonstrating wonderful vocal abilities and providing a touch of glamour among the grime.

And last but certainly not least, Gary Starkie plays the role of Fagin, the master manipulator of the street kids who he exploits for his own gain. Starkie scuttles and scurries around the den of iniquity that serves as a base for the vagabonds he has taken under his wing, his Fagin is seedy and disreputable. Starkie portrays a subtle cowardice as Fagin cowers from Bill Sykes and hides from the law. His masterful performance of You've Got To Pick a Pocket or Two was a winner and only topped by the slyly, contemplative Reviewing the Situation.

The production is skilfully directed by Philip Marshall Junior. The staging of a large scale show is no mean feat and Marshall brings a deft touch to the show wrangling the many and varied elements effectively. I loved the revolving set and the way in which it transformed one location to another in the blink of an eye. The choreography by Nicky Wright is sharp and fizzes as the chorus brings its gleeful energy to the energetic routines.

Musically, the show is a triumph, Musical Director Nicola Law does an amazing job wielding the baton before a tight band, and having coached so many vocalists with differing degrees of experience, to bring out the very best in every performance. It would be remis not to mention Assistant Director Vicki Wright and Producer Jamie Harris, whose support and assistance has been vital throughout the production with both bringing their own experience and extra sets of eyes to a complicated production.

If you don't have a ticket for the show, you have missed out as the entire run has sold out in advance of opening night. You can go ask to be added to a waiting list but this cannot be done online unfortunately and you will need to call in , in person to the theatre to do so. It only remains to say that this show will be a memorable addition to the successful run of large scale musicals performed by Louth Playgoers and deserves all the praise it will earn when audiences see the culmination of so many people's hard work.

Andy Evans 15 May 2024

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