Let’s’s start by saying that it is unlikely that you will ever see as massive a production of Lionel Bart’s masterpiece as this one given by Brighton Theatre Group, or dare I say it, as good! Okay, there are some tiny quibbles, the sound at the start was a little too loud and too raw and the lighting at times overly busy. But when it comes to filling a stage with talent, well this would be hard to beat.

Let’s start with the choreography. We regularly see professional companies with teams of only eight or even six dancers crashing into each other on the small, but perfectly formed, Theatre Royal Brighton stage. Not here, the massive cast delivered well crafted and complex routines without creating a car crash, hats off to them all and especially to choreographer Jodie Michele.

Photography: Miles Davies

Musically the piece was delivered with terrific Oom-Pah-Pah by a great pit band led by Carl Greenwood and the massive cast were musically as sound.

So on to the principals and of course to the eponymous hero. In the film Mark Lester has very little voice, a whisper and nothing more. On opening night we got Christian Ridley and boy can the boy sing, and act too, a first class performance. Elias Prosser’s Artful Dodger was equally impressive, not only in singing but also dancing, a charming  performance.

James Witt made a finely lecherous Beadle Bumble and Hannah Garred an excellently devious Widow Corney with the best comedic moments in the piece. H Reeves is every inch the undertaker Sowerberry, shrivelled and dark and Emma Linfield the domineering wife does justice to the role – and on and on… there is not a weak member of the company taking on those smaller roles and doing justice to them.

On though to the rest of the principals. Nancy gets the best songs in the show so the role needs to be given to someone with a huge voice and Lucia Romero Clark has just that, from punching out the pub scene to delivering the heartbreaking As Long As He needs Me, this is a stunning performance. Nathan Charman’s Bill Sykes is dark, really dark and threatening and that threat echoes through his disturbing musical moments too.

So finally, and with apologies to those not mentioned here by name, far too many to include, so as I say, finally to Fagin.

Now the role of Fagin is tough for many reasons, perhaps most because Ron Moody’s stage and film portrayal is so iconic. But also more recently because there is a consciousness that the character can stir up concerns about antisemitism. In the book he is of course Jewish, and in the scoring Bart has not shied away from instilling that kletzmer tonality in his numbers. Here we are given a younger Fagin, avaricious and lascivious, a creepy self serving monster of a man but not without a gentle whisper of compassion. Jake Beniston really gets to grips with the complexity of the role, the subtle shifts from monster to mentor, the darkness to the comedy and he delivers those show stopping numbers with aplomb and with energy – it’s a five star performance in a five star production. It also has echoes of a certain comedian who, in recent months, has been reportedly revealed to be, allegedly, a sexual predator.

Michael Burnie’s direction is assured, traditional in many ways but in no way afraid of approaching the darker elements of Charles Dickens’ story which in its original form was very dark indeed and deeply sinister.

Brighton Theatre Group, with producer Keith Shepherd, have once again pulled off a brilliant coup which would challenge the standards of any West End or touring pro company to come close to matching. Beg for a ticket in what is sure to be a sell out show!

Andrew Kay

14 February

Rating: ★★★★★

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