REVIEW: Oliver! presented by Valley Academy

Valley Academy is presenting musical Oliver! at The Burnley Mechanics this week. (s)
Valley Academy is presenting musical Oliver! at The Burnley Mechanics this week. (s)

When you see Valley Academy’s cast explode on stage like sunflowers, you’ll forget they’re singing of exploitation and abuse.

Lionel Bart’s musical adaptation of a Dickensian novel of mistreated orphans bursts with a peculiar glee.

It’s the story of Oliver Twist, an orphan who escapes the miseries of the workhouse to find himself entangled in a gang of London pickpockets.

And yet some of the songs - think Food Glorious Food - ring with joy despite their dismal subjects. The Valley Academy cast and chorus captured this merriment with their lovely, enthusiastic vocals: Zachary Rishton sang sweetly as Oliver; Gabriella Home and Grant Bromley brought mischievous fun as Dodger and Fagin; and Darren Brierley and Sally-Ann Bromley plunged into panto with their lurid parodies of greedy workhouse owners.

The standout performance - powerful yet tender vocals, full of character - came from Gina Cole as Nancy. She strutted on stage like a blaze of fire, showcasing fabulous range. But in more poignant moments, her performance seeped into the melodramatic, taking the bite out of Nancy’s abusive relationship.

The same issue is to be had with the overriding tone of glee - without bleeding into eeriness - which distanced me from the characters. Bart blunts their outlines, stretching them out at times into melodramatic archetypes.

Still, it brightened up my Tuesday evening to see parents perform alongside their children with such heart and vocal loveliness.

Performances continue tonight and tomorrow at The Mechanics Theatre, Burnley. Book your seats on 01282 664400.