The well-known first musical number, 'Food Glorious Food', in Oxford Operatic Society's Oliver! sets the scene for the polished production which is to come. The choreography is simple but accomplished, the children move with energy and accuracy, and the singing is fantastic. What a treat! All this is grounded by an intuitive design in both lighting and set. In the scene which follows, there are moments of choreographed movement which are equally successful and well executed by the chorus of orphans. The rest of the show lives up to the standard which is thus set.
Indeed the comic duet between Guy Grimsley as Mr Bumble and Frankie Alexandra as Widow Corney, which finishes this first scene, stands out as a highlight of the whole show. The timing of the two actors is spot-on, their singing is fantastic and they have a sparky onstage chemistry between them. Particular praise must go to Alexandra who is fantastic throughout the performance; hers is one of those stage presences which draws the eye, even later as a member of the chorus. Her vocal performance is also impressive; she makes it look easy to sing so well while still bringing out the humour in the song.
The singing is very strong in general, both individually and in the chorus scenes. The lyrics are never lost and those catchy, famous melodies shine through. Ben Wilson as Oliver sings musically and has a pleasant tone to his voice, Dan North as the Artful Dodger carries off the rhythmically challenging 'Consider Yourself' with ease and skill, Guy Grimsley has moments of pure vocal silk in his rendition of 'Boy For Sale' and last but not least Nicola Blake as Nancy delivers 'As Long As He Needs Me' with accomplishment.
In fact it is clear we are in safe hands with Blake's portrayal of the iconic part; her performance is solid. Other individual mention for acting must go to Dan North, whose physical embodiment of the Artful Dodger is assured and confident and Ron Bertwistle as Fagin who is expressive and enjoyable to watch. His song 'Reviewing The Situation' is fantastic. In fact Bertwistle's eyes, specifically, are rather captivating!
This expressive eye movement is enhanced by the notable handiwork of the make-up team, whose skilfulness is seen across the board. The production team are also to be congratulated for the swift scene changes which proceeded without mishap; a remarkable occurrence for a Wednesday night performance. The band is also superb; you could believe you were listening to a set of professional musicians and the violin solo in 'Reviewing the Situation' soared with impeccable style.
The only small criticism would be that the second half lost some pace; it was noticeably slower and less slick and therefore some of the climactic moments of drama were slightly lost, the action never having gained the necessary momentum to support them. This small quibble was not, however, sufficient to detract from the overall positive effect of the production.
On the whole, then, my conclusion is effusive. This was a production with a very high standard: in its musicality, its choreography, its production values and its individual performances. As a final note, I must mention the dancing policemen whose deft footwork very nearly stole the show.