Lichfield Cathedral proved an extremely atmospheric setting for Lichfield Musical Youth Theatre’s production of Oliver, with the fading light and emerging shadows from the arches of the building mirroring the story as it moves towards its darker aspects of kidnap, violence and murder. Having seen many productions of the show in the past, these elements are often played down, somewhat losing the impact of young Oliver Twist’s plight and eventual salvation. I was so pleased then to see that LMYT’s production team have not shied away from tackling them head on and with excellent realism. This commitment to portraying every aspect of the story and the fantastic attention to period mannerisms across the whole company, really bring a sense of Dickensian London to Lichfield.
It is often the case in such reviews that key performers are highlighted first and then a cursory nod is given to the ensemble at the end, but the whole company for Oliver really deserve the first mention today, as the quality of the ensemble performance was outstanding throughout. Every single member of the ensemble (including Fagin’s Gang) attacked their role with great tenacity and intricate characterisation, to the extent that whoever you looked at onstage told you instantly who they were, what their position was in that Dickensian London and how they related to others around them. With their characters’ quirks reflected in the delivery of the song and dance routines, it gave a fresh approach to the well-known production numbers, while using the cast to change the scenery while also in character helped the production to flow almost seamlessly.
There are excellent performances across the featured roles with every performer really finding something in their character to make it their own. The title role of Oliver is in assuredly safe hands with Nate Wallace. He gives a genuine, honest and likeable performance with more depth of character than I have ever seen in previous Olivers. He has a remarkable singing voice too, which soars in the Cathedral acoustic. Also in fine voice were Grace Willis as a wonderfully emotional Nancy and James Padley, proving the ideal showman for the big numbers as Dodger; while Isabel Stone (Rose Seller), Beth Dickson (Milk Maid) and Phoebe Lago Willetts (Strawberry Seller) won over the whole audience with their stunning rendition of Who Will Buy. Cordie Osborne (Widow Corney), Matthew Bishop (Mr Bumble) and Alex Nicholls (Mr Sowerberry) each brought a wonderful touch of comedy to their roles, resisting the temptation to be stray into caricature, while one of the stand out performances of the night for us was Lucy Allen as Mrs Sowerberry – curt, funny and never letting a single moment of her brief stage time drop, making a character that is often overlooked in the show very much one to be remembered.
LMYT have earned a reputation for strong, high-quality performances and this production certainly lives up to expectation. From the impeccable costume design and simple effective staging, to the energised and intricate choreography, the whole production team should be applauded for bringing a fresh approach to a beloved classic show. Lichfield Cathedral is a notoriously difficult space for performance and the use of the space and its acoustic is extremely well-handled. The only down side overheard from audience members was to the restricted view from some areas of the seating, despite the tiered approach; although having the stage in traverse certainly went some way to bringing the audience closer to the action.
As a long-standing fan of the show I always love to see productions that dig beneath the surface. LMYT certainly give “MORE” to this polished production of Oliver! than I have seen in a long time. If you can grab any of the few remaining tickets I would certainly recommend heading to Lichfield before the final performance this Saturday.
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