REVIEW: Ariel’s Oliver! offers a familiar but fun experience at The Hawth

Oliver (Harvey Thorne) and Fagin (Simon Fellingham). Picture by Stephen Candy
Oliver (Harvey Thorne) and Fagin (Simon Fellingham). Picture by Stephen Candy

Oliver! Ariel Company Theatre, The Hawth, Crawley, September 25

I’ve seen this musical before...but who hasn’t?

Oliver! by Ariel Company Theatre. Picture by Stephen Candy

Oliver! by Ariel Company Theatre. Picture by Stephen Candy

First performed in 1960 Lionel Bart’s Oliver! has become a firm family favourite that drama groups all over the UK simply love to present.

As expected, the Ariel team don’t do anything radically different with the material, but focus on creating the most professional version of the classic show that they can.

And, as expected, their efforts have paid off.

First, the look of Ariel’s production is particularly effective. The sets present bleak environments of brick, wood and iron, capturing that smoky, industrial world of early 19th century London.

The lighting adds splashes of colour, but the show’s brightness really comes from the vibrant costumes and the dynamic characters that wear them. Simon Fellingham, for example, has fun with the show’s most entertaining character, Fagin. Sure, Fagin’s a villain who tricks children into committing crimes, but he’s also a strangely likeable rogue. Devious, desperate, pretentious and comical, Simon portrays a thief with a multi-faceted personality. He even (from what I can tell) throws in a few ad-lib jokes.

Jarrod Hopson also does well at showing the different sides of his character The Artful Dodger. He’s smug and arrogant when introducing Oliver to the other pickpockets, but when things fall apart he quickly flies into a panic.

In contrast, the true villain of the piece isn’t complex at all. Career criminal Bill Sykes is just a nasty piece of work and actor Matt Henry emphasises Sykes’ psychopathic nature.

There are too many performers to name individually (everyone does a great job) but those playing the most virtuous characters should get a mention.

Harvey Thorn works well as Oliver! putting his pure singing voice to good use and handling the show’s hardest musical number (‘Where is Love?’) very nicely.

However, I think the strongest ‘goodie’ performance belongs to Gemma Peel as Nancy. Her version of ‘As Long As He Needs Me’ just brings the house down. Maybe it should be sung delicately but Gemma’s powerful voice really conveys Nancy’s misguided optimism.

Finally, the dance routines, choreographed by Beverly Locke, are exciting, professional and very precise, as all performers keep tightly in sync with each other.

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