Tuesday, April 23

Oliver – Northwich Memorial Court

This evening I had the pleasure of being transported back to 1830’s London for Mid Cheshire Musical Theatre Company’s and Mid Cheshire Youth Theatre’s production of ‘Oliver’. Following a brief hiatus from producing full-scale musical productions, I was very excited to see MCMTC tackle such an iconic classic on its welcome return to the Northwich Memorial Court. The pre-show air of keen anticipation in the auditorium was tangible.

Despite the challenges of such a complex and epic show to a family audience, the stellar production team, comprising of Lou Steggals (director) Jenna Finnigan (youth director & choreographer) and Marilyn Blank (musical director) did not disappoint.

The musical follows the story of Oliver, a young orphan living in Victorian England.  After escaping the depressing, abusive workhouse in which he resided, Oliver joins a band of petty thieves and pickpockets, which is where his tumultuous adventures begin on his search for the true love of a family. The heart-warming story, contrasting good versus evil, is depicted through an array of characters – ranging from inherently kind to brutally cruel – presented in a relatively family-friendly format. The collaboration between MCMTC and MCYT lends itself perfectly to a multi-generational cast.

This universally popular Dickensian story of retaining hope in the darkest times requires no radical re-invention and MCMTC paid homage to this classic with a high quality production which for the most part remained true to Lionel Bart’s much-loved original stage musical adaptation.

Reflective of the impressive stature of the set, the curtain lifted to reveal an impressive central balcony flanked by a grand staircase at each side descending onto the main stage. It was a sight to behold, and it was joyous to see how this set was ingeniously adapted throughout the performance to depict various locations, such as the workhouse, Fagin’s den and the Brownlow residence.

Picture: Rob Bentley

Early in the storyline, we are introduced to the main protagonist, Oliver Twist, wonderfully played by young Thomas Liney. Despite Liney visibly being one of the youngest cast members, he portrayed this role with true conviction and grit, demonstrating remarkable talent for his age. Accompanying Oliver in the other leading youth role of The Artful Dodger was Louis McManus, who was equally confident in his portrayal. McManus stormed through his musical numbers with ease, showcasing his superlative vocal ability, most noticeably during ‘Consider Yourself’, in which the audience was introduced to the lifestyle of the young thieves for the first time.

The key character of Fagin was played by the ever popular and highly versatile Michael Shneck. While exceeding the huge expectations for such a renowned character, Shneck perfectly embodied the quintessential characteristics of Fagin and became a firm favourite with the audience. Credit must be given to the detail of Shneck’s costume, which was so distinctive and synonymous with the classic character of Fagin, which the audience have come to know via stage and screen over the years.

Michael Corteen played the evil, menacing character of Bill Sykes with skill and conviction – epitomising the worst traits of one of literatures and theatre’s most despised characters. The threat and intimidation in Corteen’s scenes with Nancy in particular were chillingly realistic and the final scene (in which he brutally murders the long-suffering Nancy) was heavy with raw emotion.

By contrast Mr Bumble, played by Garry Wallis, certainly gave an entertaining performance with a well received comedic element to it. Although the audience did not want to like this character, they really could not avoid feeling some warmth towards him due to the humour within his portrayal.

The vocal ability of Colette Williams in her performance as the long-suffering Nancy, was evident in her show-stopping rendition of ‘As Long As He Needs Me’, which tugged on the heartstrings of the audience and was a memorable highlight of the evening.

A worthy mention goes to Joe Moore and Sophie Congleton, who played Mr and Mrs Sowerberry respectively. Their voices harmonised fantastically during their duet ‘That’s Your Funeral’. Their performance was hilariously entertaining and a welcome juxtaposition to the darker elements of the plot.

Boasting a sizeable band, led by Marilyn Blank, the musical score instantly swept us away into Oliver’s turbulent world and the contrasting themes of darkness and light, despair and hope. As one would expect from a MCMTC production, the band delivered a medley of some of Bart’s most famous musical theatre pieces note-perfectly and with such apparent ease, which was a joy to behold.

The thought-provoking lighting for the production was seamlessly executed and proved highly effective in immersing the audience in Victorian London and creating contrasting moods in different scenes. In Oliver’s solo ‘Where Is Love?’ clever and sensitive use of a single spotlight highlighted the isolation and despair of the character, evoking deep emotion and empathy from the audience. Credits go to Nicholas Field.

From a sound technology perspective, the only noticeable negative was the absence of microphones in the wider cast and ensemble, which resulted in a lack of audibility among a large gang of pickpockets, who all had individual lines during the song ‘Consider Yourself’. However, this did not detract from the crisp clarity and precision throughout the rest of the production.

Overall, ‘Oliver’ at the Northwich Memorial Court was a huge success for MCMTC’s long-awaited return to the stage and a great half-term treat for the whole family which will leave you begging for more!

Running until Saturday 24th February 2024, I strongly urge you to book your tickets before they run out to support the very talented MCMTC who continue to provide high quality, value-for-money musical theatre in the North West.  https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/whats-on/cheshire/northwich-memorial-court/mcmtc-oliver/e-ygyqmk

Reviewer: Grace Annabel

Reviewed: 21st February 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.