IT was in 1961 that Lionel Bart’s musical Oliver! first graced the West End – a date which, to the fresh-faced young cast gathered on stage at Windsor this week, probably seems as ancient as the 170 or so years since Charles Dickens’ original story was published.
Thousands of such budding actors must have trodden the boards in various professional and amateur productions of the show in the past half century, with the BBC’s I’d Do Anything three years ago helping revive interest among the general public.
At the Theatre Royal this week it’s the turn of the talented and enthusiastic members of The Theatre Academy, based in Windsor, to show what they can do with this evergreen favourite.
And what a fantastic job they make of it. This production is a delight from the opening scene to the moment the curtain falls. The majority of the cast may have never set foot on the stage of such a prestigious venue before, but you would hardly believe it.
The acting and singing is spot on, while the dancing is of a quality which is good as anything you’ll see from similarly-aged youngsters on the West End stage.
The big routines are an explosion of energy and enthusiasm, with even the littlest members of the cast displaying a masterly stage presence.
There is a satisfyingly-authentic set, recreating the doom and gloom of Dickensian London in all its grimy, poverty-stricken misery, while the costumes look sensational.
There were a few minor teething problems on the first night – an unfortunate lack of amplification for Fagin in the first half, a problem which, thankfully, was ironed out during the interval, and a rather flimsy-looking funeral parlour wall, which wobbled alarmingly. But these were minor hiccups in what was a thoroughly-enjoyable opening night.
Like all such productions involving young actors, many of the roles are shared on various nights. On Tuesday it was 13-year-old local lad Liam Buckland to be Oliver and he overcame the nerves to give an impressive performance. Fellow Windsor boy Aidan Kilby, 12, was a wonderful Artful Dodger, recreating the well-known mannerisms perfectly and singing and dancing wonderfully.
There were some delightful scenes both of pathos and humour with Mr Bumble (Alistair Lloyd) and Widow Corney (Michelle Cox) while Daniel Page was the perfect Fagin.
The vocal prowess of Ashley Oliver as Nancy was exploited to the full and she shone in the role.
What’s more there was even a little band providing the music from the orchestra pit, under the baton of James Cleeve.
Space restrictions permit me from naming everyone in the cast – it would fill a small book – but everyone involved in this show, from the smallest to the most experienced should be mighty proud of what they have achieved.
It’s a sparkling, beautifully-performed version which pays attention to every detail – and more!
Look out for The Theatre Academy’s next show at Windsor, The Sound of Music, which will be staged in the spring.
Oliver! is at The Theatre Royal, Windsor, until Saturday, October 29. Contact the box office on 01753 853888 or www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk