Let me begin by saying that the “Oliver T.” musical at Team Teatret in Herning, Denmark, is really brilliant. From the moment you enter the auditorium to “That Was No Lady That Was My Wife” and until the very last notes of “Far Far Away” 2½ hours later you are totally absorbed in the fascinating universe of Oliver Twist meets Slade. But first things first…
I took the train to Herning on September 13, and as I reach the theatre at 5.30 p.m. Don and his lady Hanne had already arrived. For a couple of hours I talked to them and to theatre manager and director Mikael Helmuth and the rest the theatre staff as I am to write an English synopsis of the musical plot to help foreigners in the audience to understand what is going on.
We also had the time for a little art-appreciation. It turned out that the theatre café exhibited works of the Danish artist Henriette Fabricius whose art-works were inspired by respectively the “Oliver T.” musical and Slade. Last year when Don turned 60 he was given one of Henriette Fabricius’ paintings as a birthday gift and now Don and Hanne ended up buying 5 Slade-paintings made on slate! Also Danish hard-core Slade-fans Per and Kirsten bought a painting. See photos below!
Finally my watch said 7.30 p.m. and the musical started. While the (mostly mature) audience entered the auditorium the band including Don on drums was already engaged in a rocky rendition of “That Was No Lady That Was My Wife”. The minimalistic multi-purpose set design was fantastic, so was the lights that reminded much of the light settings at a rock concert.
The story of the musical is set in the 19th century, but still the characters make use of things like mobile phones and credit cards, which is actually quite funny. All in all “Oliver T.” is only very loosely based on Dickens’ “Oliver Twist” as both characters and plot have been changed, but it goes like this: the orphan Oliver gets accepted by Fagin and his gang of young thieves. Because of a golden locket that Oliver wears and which has his dead mother’s portrait in it, the criminal Bill and his girlfriend, the prostitute Jane, think that Oliver must be rich. Eventually Oliver gets adopted by his rich uncle but learns that the rich are even worse than the poor. Everything and everybody are corrupt and depraved, from the lowest criminal to the police and the law. After the dissolution of the gang of young thieves (due to a paedophile hag of a female judge who has been abusing Fagin since his childhood), Oliver is left to seek his happiness in the company of the prostitute Jane. Especially the ending differs a lot from Dickens’ classic, but my guess is that this new ending has been made out of “political” reasons. Where in Dickens all is well when Oliver is saved by a wealthy old gentleman, the “Oliver T.” show points out that the rich are even worse than the poor and Oliver therefor has to pursue his quest for happiness elsewhere. The dramatic highlight in Dickens’ classic – the killing of Jane (in Dickens’ original her name is Nancy) – has been stricken and replaced by a touching scene between Oliver and the ghost of his dead mother. And as an extra surprise Fagin turns out to be characterised as one of the heroes of the story.
As for the cast, the young Lykke Sand Michelsen struggles to bring some life into the somewhat featureless Oliver, but it is Ib Frendo who outshines the rest of the cast, brilliantly portraying the cocaine-snorting, self-pitying, September-hating Fagin. Also worth noticing is Niels Boesen who plays no less than 3 characters, a policeman who rapes Jane in the most sadistic way, Oliver’s uncle who also rapes Jane in the most sadistic way and finally a homeless man – the comic highlight of the play.
The use of Slade’s music to the Oliver Twist story is brilliant. The gritty Slade-songs suit the bleak plot perfectly, commenting on the events on stage, and the 7-piece band including the singer does an excellent job. And of course it was great seeing Don up there among the other musicians. All in all there are 10 Slade-songs in this re-premiere of “Oliver T.”, namely That Was No Lady That Was My Wife, Get Down And Get With It, How Does It Feel?, Know Who You Are, Cum On Feel The Noize, Mama Weer All Crazee Now, Universe, Gudbuy T’Jane, Merry Xmas Everybody and Far Far Away.
“How Does It Feel?” is the re-occurring theme-song of the musical and along with “Universe” the musical highlight. Other songs such as “Get Down And Get With It” and MXE have a lot of audience-participation and sometimes you’re not really sure if this is a musical or a rock concert. The audience loved that mix and so did I.
The role of the singer is one of the key-roles in the play as he is not only the narrator of the story and therefore the connecting link to the audience, he also stands in for the missing character of The Artful Dodger. Danish musical star Allan Mortensen plays the part in most of the shows, but during the shows that feature Don on drums in week 42 actor Flemming Bang will be taking over. When I saw the musical on September 13, it was Allan Mortensen who was on stage, but I’ve seen Flemming Bang as well, him being the original Artful Dodger in the 2005-staging of “Oliver T.” I think it is safe to say that the two singers are very different and lend the part of The Artful Dodger very different facets. Mortensen has a quiet, slick voice and a theatrical manner with which he portrays a fragile, gentle Artful Dodger as airy as a Shakespearean Ariel whereas Bang is more powerful with a voice, strength and cheekiness that reminds of Noddy. Both approaches to the role are interesting and worth seeing.
When the musical ended at 10 p.m. there were standing ovations and no less than 3 curtain calls. And needless to say Don got the biggest applause. Then theatre manager Mikael Helmuth made a short speech in the theatre café and afterwards there was a delicious buffet, but as the last train left at 10.30 p.m. I had to leave almost immediately. Luckily I had the time to say a decent goodbye to Don and Hanne, then I was off with hard-core fans Per and Kirsten. We caught the train, but when I had to change in the town of Vejle my next train was extremely delayed and I wasn’t back in Odense until 1.30 a.m. But it was all worth it. Next month I’m going to see the musical again, this time with my 8 years old daughter and I surely look forward to that!
P.S. If you want tickets for the show you better hurry!