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Oliver is one of those musicals which everyone knows, even if they can’t remember ever seeing it. All it takes is one bar of ‘Consider Yourself’ and out come the cockney accents and the Artful Dodger-style confident strides. It is perhaps the ideal choice for the Crucible’s Christmas production this year which is looked upon as the highlight of the season, and which has a lot to live up to after 2012’s excellent production of My Fair Lady. This year’s audience came expecting big dance numbers and big songs they’d be singing on the way home. Thankfully, as tends to be the case with anything Daniel Evans puts his name to these days, Oliver doesn’t disappoint. This production sparkles with comedic timing, particularly from Fagin, played by the brilliant Tom Edden, but it’s some of the more minor characters like Mr and Mrs Sowerberry (Chris Vincent and Liza Sadovy) and Dr Grimwig (Bob Harms) who have the audience consistently laughing out loud. Director Daniel Evans has a knack of bringing humour to his productions. With Dickens’s ability to create such memorable characters and Bart’s uplifting score and lyrics, it’s the perfect combination for the perfect night at the theatre. The production switches comfortably from the cheekiness of Fagin’s pick-pocketing gang to the tragedy of Nancy’s relationship with Bill Sykes. It is Hayley Gallivan’s portrayal of Nancy which is one of the most memorable performances of the night, as her voice soars with desperation in the tear-jerker ‘As Long As He Needs Me’. Nancy is torn between helping Oliver and remaining true to Bill, played as devilishly as you would expect by Ben Richards. In the end she pays the highest price for helping Oliver in a climactic scene which doesn’t shy away from its brutality. It’s the songs which make Oliver one of the best loved musicals and the opening number of ‘Food Glorious Food’ is a wonderful display of controlled chaos. ‘Consider Yourself’, ‘It’s a Fine Life’, ‘I’d Do Anything’ and ‘Oom-Pah-Pah’ are quite rightly crowd pleasers. Another highlight is Fagin’s struggle with the devil on his shoulder in ‘Reviewing the Situation’. A fantastic five minutes of comedic, musical delight. The title role was played by Jack Skilbeck-Dunn, with his short-lived best buddy the Artful Dodger played by Jack Armstrong. I've sometimes had a few issues with child actors – they usually can’t act – but these two pull off everything that is thrown at them, mixing up a cocktail of shy, nervousness, arrogance and pluck. Oliver finished to a standing ovation with the biggest cheers saved for Fagin and Nancy, the two standout performances of the evening. After one more chorus of ‘Consider Yourself’ (every good show deserves an encore) the cast leave the stage and the audience exit the auditorium thoroughly entertained, catchy tunes lodged firmly in heads for days to come. It was never in doubt really. Treat yourself. Go and see Oliver. Oliver runs at the Crucible until 25th January. )

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