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Phil Willmott travels through theatreland...

And sees Oliver, Thriller, Midsummer Nights Dream and The Beggar's Opera.


The new production of musical Oliver! at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, confidently delivers everything you could wish for the exorbitant price of a West End theatre ticket. There’s millions of pounds worth of dancing scenery, a huge beaming cast, an army of urchins and Rowan Atkinson playing a perfect Fagin. The girl from the reality TV casting is also round and jolly as Nancy but is perhaps a little… er.. robust? Luckily they’ve bulked out Bill Sykes in a big coat otherwise my money would be on her getting the upper hand in any domestic violence.

Superstar director, Rupert Gould, has been drafted in to spruce up Sam Mendes' 1997 Palladium production. However, he appears to have only added an under used walkway, music hall style, in front of the orchestra and cut cool bits like Oliver’s Mum collapsing at the orphanage gates. I wonder how the show would play with a lighter touch from a director/designer. In the meantime enjoy this monolithic, no expense spared, theme park experience.

Don’t be fooled, Michael Jackson’s Thriller at the Lyric Theatre on Shaftsbury Avenue, isn’t a musical based on the iconic song/video. Apparently it costs the producers more if they incorporate an artist’s catalogue into a story – so this is just a very long, upmarket, tribute act. I was bored rigid but plenty of people had a great time on press night, including my companion, so I guess if you’re a Jacko fan go and enjoy the man’s music, relentlessly performed by some top class singers and dancers with lots of flashy lights.

Just when you though you could never sit through another Midsummer Nights Dream, Gregg Doran’s production at the Novello Theatre makes it seem, fresh funny and new. There’s lots of fun puppetry, a simple but beautiful set and handsome actors in linen. At three hours, the fun drags, but it’s still the RSC at the top of their game.

However, a new production of The Begger’s Opera has proved a bit of a disappointment at the Royal Opera House Studio (this piece paid for the original theatre on the Covent Garden site). Shoe horned into a self-consciously modern setting by director Justin Way, the satire feels very blunt. Things aren’t helped by the performers uneasy transition between singing Britten’s operatic settings of the score and acting the text. Sarah Fox as Lucy Lockett is the exception turning in a convincing performance as the heartbroken whore.


Phil Willmott has directed over fifty productions across the world from Shakespeare & musicals to cutting edge new writing. He is founding Artistic Director of his own multi award winning theatre company The Steam Industry, incorporating The Finborough Theatre (under the Artistic Directorship of Neil NcPherson) and the London's annual Free Theatre Festival at the open-air "Scoop" amphitheatre on the South Bank.http://www.philwillmott.co.uk



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