Oliver! Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London
Roaring Trade, Soho Theatre, London
Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, NT Olivier, London

Rowan Atkinson makes a convincing Fagin in Cameron Mackintosh's revival of the enduring musical

Second helpings, anyone? It's not a line you associate with Oliver Twist. When Dickens's half-starved orphan boy asks for more, all he gets from the workhouse beadle, Mr Bumble, is a flea in his ear. But producer Cameron Mackintosh is not averse to the idea of the same again.

Though directed by Rupert Goold, who is renowned for taking award-winning new angles on classic plays, this Drury Lane Oliver! is essentially a revival of Sam Mendes's 1994 Palladium staging of the Lionel Bart musical. Goold was Mendes's assistant back then. So, is it just reheated leftovers? Not at all.

What's joyous is that this Oliver! feels fresh and exuberant – spiritually full of beans. The child actors are absolutely charming. Performing in rep with two other finalists from the sales-bolstering TV talent show I'd Do Anything, Harry Stott's Oliver has a gentle unaffected sweetness, with his mop of dark hair and serious face. He has the purity of a chorister when he sings "Who will buy this wonderful morning?"

Jodie Prenger's buxom Nancy (also from I'd Do Anything) proves splendid too, swinging into Fagin's den, swishing her petticoats. She exudes lovely natural confidence and touching warmth as she belts out "It's a fine life" and gives all the little rapscallions a hug. (She, by the by, is not playing all performances either, presumably to avoid strained vocal cords.)

As for Rowan Atkinson, it's a rare treat to see this comic actor in the flesh. His Fagin, with thinning ratty hair, is rich in hilarious idiosyncratic detailing, even if his nervous quivering is not convincing. His relish of the plosives in "Pick a pocket or two" is delicious – recalling his early school register sketch – and he playfully drags out the "r" in "Reviewing the situation" until he sounds like a buzzing bee, waggling his lips with a spindly finger. Endearingly cranky and childish when alone, he delves into his stash of jewels, slips on a tiara and improvises a puppet play between a lah-di-dah string of pearls and diamond choker.

The entire production soft-pedals on menace, grim poverty and child-abusing cruelty, with the exception of Julian Bleach's fantastically ghoulish Mr Sowerberry, a darting adder of an undertaker. Burn Gorman's Bill Sikes fails to chill and the narrative momentum becomes jerky in the second half.

Still, Goold, Mackintosh and choreographer Matthew Bourne don't leave their audience feeling short changed, with a whirling, rumbustious cast of 80 and expanded sets by Anthony Ward. Victorian London – in spite of folks being on their uppers – is quite spectacular. In the police chase where our child hero is on the run, accused of picking pockets, the city becomes a huge mobile maze. Whole towering streets slide around before your eyes, pincering in, merging and criss-crossing. Iron bridges – spanning the proscenium arch – slowly rise and fall as the little lad scurries to and fro. It's like a giant shooting gallery. A little bit scary, a lot a fun.

In Roaring Trade, capitalist greed is all consuming. Steve Thompson's new City drama, premiered by Paines Plough, throws you in with a bunch of arrogant, competitive and surreptitiously cheating bond traders, as the credit crunch looms. There are few surprises here for cynics, and Thompson owes debts to both Caryl Churchill's Serious Money and David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross.

Still, Roxana Silbert's production does generate tension, thanks to sharp acting from Andrew Scott as the viciously needling Donny and Nicholas Tennant as the burnt-out PJ, a veteran heading for a breakdown. Newcomers Christian Roe and Phoebe Waller-Bridge are names to watch.

From 21st-century capitalism, we trundle back to the USSR circa 1977. In Tom Stoppard and André Previn's Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, Joseph Millson's Alexander Ivanov is on hunger strike, incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital for refusing to sing from the Soviet establishment's songsheet. Sharing his cell and surreally his name is a lunatic (Toby Jones) who believes he is in charge of an orchestra and keeps tinkling a triangle. In a schoolroom elsewhere, the dissident's distraught son – yet another Alexander Ivanov – muddles up the rules taught in his geometry class.

Worrying about where to draw the line between ideologies and an individual's identity, unbending belief systems and insanity, EGBDF is a teasing mix of serious issues and batty wordplay. However, as a crossover of theatre and music, it's a flop. The actors share the stage with a 40-strong orchestra only for Previn's score – interrupting the dialogue – to sound sentimental and prolix.

The National Theatre's artistic director, Nicholas Hytner, is keen on experimental hybrids, but the results are hit and miss. This revival does Stoppard no favours. It is co-staged by Tom Morris and Punchdrunk's Felix Barrett, who is good at design-led projects but displays no textual acumen here. Though he can be a brilliant gnome-like clown, Jones is left flailing, and Millson's dignified speeches start to sound ploddingly worthy. As for the interpolated dance sequences, pirouettes and somersaults, as an arty depiction of torture only induce wincing embarrassment.



'Oliver!' (0844 412 2955) booking to 26 Sep; 'Roaring Trade' (0870 429 6883) to 7 Feb; 'EGBDF' (020-7452 3000) to 25 Feb

Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick