Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Please sir, I want some more...

Here, rather belatedly is my review of Oliver! which we saw the Friday before last.

One of the difficulties of theatre going in London is always how the hell you manage to feed yourself (and in this case four hungry offspring). As most shows start around 7.30, grazing with the young has to take place around 6pm, which is a bit of a bugger when you've got a train to catch. If not circumscribed by small people you then have to go hungry throughout the evening (and hope your rumbling stomach doesn't annoy your neighbours too much), and THEN leg it for the last train with a very full stomach. Neither option is exactly enticing, but it trying to work out the food thing often makes a night at the theatre a right pain in the butt.

Happily, I went to see Dirty Dancing in January, and a friend of mine and I stumbled on this place.

It is hidden behind the Theatre Royal where Oliver! is showing which was handy, and by dint of having everyone ready, the minute Spouse walked through the door we were able to leg it up to London and get there for 6.15pm, allowing us enough time to have a main course and a drink each.

The food itself - a bit of a mediterrenean/Turkish combo wasn't (I didn't think) that much to right home about. I had beef bourginon and Spouse had stir fry and we both felt a bit short changed to be spending a tenner on something we cook for a couple of quid at home. However, you don't visit Sarastro simply for the food. The place itself offers a positively magical and unique experience all its own. It is billed as The Show After The Show, and it's not hard to see why.

As you walk into the restaurant you will see a line of tables in the middle, and on either side little alcoves, with tables in. So far, so normal. But then your eye is drawn to the ladders at the side, and you realise that above each of the alcoves is a balcony, with a set of tables and chairs in it. Although it's clearly meant to represent the boxes in a theatre, it also rather reminded me of the poop deck of a pirate ship, particularly as the decor is a combination of the gaudy and ornate. We were lucky enough to get a balcony table, and I kept expecting to see Johnny Depp swing above our heads.

I'm not at all sure I can do justice to the decor, but the table cloths were a red velvety material - even the napkins were velvet, while the lampshades varied from the sort you see in Spanish bars, to those funny little tasselly things I always associate with old ladies. The walls were painted in gold, and red and decorated with ornate carvings. It is one of the most bizarre and fascinating restaurants I've ever been in. The kids thought it was fabulous, and I'd certainly recommend going there, although next time, I'd like to experience after theatre dining, as pre theatre meals are always a bit fast food for my liking.

Still because of the proximity to the theatre we were in our seats by 7.10pm, which felt nice and relaxing (we had a rather stressful yomp from the bottom of Shaftesbury Avenue to The Palladium to see the Sound of Music last year, so this was quite a nice change).

As I mentioned, we chose to go to see Oliver! the same night that Jacko did, which was rather weird, as for everyone was hanging over the edge of the balcony for ten minutes before the show started, and again at the interval. At one point I thought some of them weren't even going to sit down. I'm glad they did as I wouldn't have liked to have started a punch up at the theatre...

As a family we're big fans of Oliver! Spouse is particularly fond of the Mark Lester version and his favourite song in that is Who Will Buy?, which I'm also rather partial too.

So we were never going to not like this really.

However, I have to say, of the three West End musicals we've seen in the last couple of years, Oliver! does knock the spots of the other two (and I thought nothing could beat the brilliant dancing in Mary Poppins).

From the minute we met the workhouse boys singing Food Glorious Food, we were dazzled by a a fantastic set, which moved steps, bridges, houses up down and sideways, some incredible choreography (there must have been FIFTY kids in that first number) and the sheer exuberance of the cast, who were all uniformly good.

The kids were disappointed of course that we didn't get Jodie, having voted for her in I'll Do Anything, but sneakily I thought the understudy, whose name I don't know because we lost our programme was better.

They also wanted Oliver to be either Gwion (little Welsh boy who they favoured on the TV show) or the boy who plays the mute in the Roman Mysteries , but instead we got the Other One, whose name I also don't know. Didn't matter again, because he was quite brilliant. His rendition of Where is Love? was heartrending.

We also really enjoyed the song That's Your Funeral with the Sowerberrys, which isn't in the film (though I couldn't stop myself from fretting about Oliver being stuck in the coffin while the Sowerberry's sat on him), and Oliver's spirited self defence.

Getting to London, the fabulous sets changed again, and a London street seemed to appear from nowhere. The kid playing the Artful Dodger was great, and his exchange with Oliver very funny. The children were all enthralled as the rest of Fagin's gang appeared one by one from the back of a statue to sing Consider Yourself.

Of course, what everyone was waiting for was the appearance of Rowan Atkinson as Fagin (now I would have been disappointed if he hadn't been in it!). I'd forgotten what a relatively long time it is till he pitches up, but they teased us with a glimpse of him, high on a gantry, before he finally stepped from behind a curtain in his den to rapturous applause.

What can I say about Rowan Atkinson's Fagin? He does play it for laughs more then pathos, but oh he is sooooo good. I was entranced by his every move, and mesmerised by his presence. And he is so bendy! I realise watching him on tv he has the ability to be very supple and flexible, but watching him on stage was a real eyeopener. He contorts himself into the most impossible positions. My favourite moments were his version of You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two, during which he was hilariously shadowed by Nipper - the smallest of small boys who tried to steal his hankie, and even better was the way he sang (well ok, sing might be a bit generous, think of the way he sings in the Lion King and you'll get the picture) I'm Reviewing the Situation had me crying with laughter. The kids loved the moment where he took out his jewels and was speaking to them as to old friends, and concluded that he was part Fagin/part Mr Bean which was probably a fair assessment of it. But brilliant anyway.

The revelation of the show for Spouse and I was Burn Gorman's Bill Sykes. (If you watch Torchwood you'll know him as Owen). Burn Gorman is hardly a beefy type, and we had our doubts as to whether he could pull it off, but he surprised us by oozing menace, and being so thoroughly unpleasant we felt like cheering when he fell off the roof. The violence with which he killed Nancy (carefully choreographed so you didn't see anything, but you felt the power of it) was terrifying. And given that I am not a dog lover the presence of Bill Sykes' dog on stage added to the effect (amazingly they even got the animal to run across stage without jumping out into the audience).

Overall it was one of the best musicals I've ever seen on stage, and after thinking it was going to be impossible to top the film version of Who Will Buy? they triumphed there too.

Very definitely well worth seeing. Though if you want to catch Rowan, you'd better be quick as I think he's out of it in April.

In the meantime, let me leave you with this. Quite simply one of the most breathtaking and beautiful musical scenes going.


Marie said...

Sounds fantastic. One to take the nieces and nephews to. There's no way I'd manage to get there in time for Rowan Atkinson though - sigh.

AnnaOnTheMoon said...

Rowan and Burn Gorman are both slated to be in Oliver! until July, I believe it is.

Jane Henry said...

Marie, definitely take the nieces/nephews. They'll love it. And if Anna is right you might have longer to get Rowan.

Anna, I was told when I booked tickets at Christmas Rowan Atkinson was out in April, but I bow to your superior knowledge!

AnnaOnTheMoon said...


I'm the admin for, so the information I have is what we were given. It's possible Rowan changed his mind and decided he needed to leave earlier, so if someone heard it at the theatre, I'd take that over what we know!

Xenutia said...

Rowan Atkinson takes his week's holiday about now until April (I was at the theatre two days back and overheard the cast talking!) so maybe that's what you're thinking of? But the three teams of children they are currently working with finish in April.

Anonymous said...

Rowan Atkinson is going to be replaced by Omid Djalili, which is also very interesting casting.

Jane Henry said...

Xenutia it is entirely possible I got the wrong end of the stick. I had a very long conversation with the nice lady at See.Com trying to establish a night when we could see both Rowan and Jodie, so maybe I misunderstood her!

Stu-n, I think I'd vaguely heard Omid Djalili was going to take over. Dammit. I might have to see it again (though perhaps not with six of us. It's a tad expensive en masse.) Btw, been meaning to ask you, I hope you weren't one of the people who took ill after visiting the Fat Duck? I meant to comment on your review, which was one of the most mouth watering food reviews I've ever read. Having been watching his lastest TV series, am seriously tempted to take hubby there for our 20th wedding anniversary.

Lisa Rullsenberg said...

Great review - I too have a bit of a thing for Oliver! (having grown up on the movie) But I have to confess I can't think of it now without thinking of Dougie Henshall doing a version of 'reviewing the situation' when he played a role in Daziel and Pascoe the other year... Quirky doesn't cover it...