So Omid Djalili has stepped into Mr. Bean’s – or should I say Mr. Atkinson’s – shoes at Drury Lane and putting aside the supreme irony of a chap born of Iranian parents playing the most infamous Jew in English literature – a situation which will doubtless provide years of material for his stand-up routines – he is rather good. His physical robustness gives him pounds of advantage over the wiry Atkinson (who is forever saddled now with Bean’s mannersisms) but Djalili wears the weight nimbly and has created an armoury of nervous ticks and double-takes born of years of frantically looking over his shoulder. And I’m sure Lionel Bart would have been charitable about the odd topical reference to MP’s expenses and banks you can’t trust.
I was an impressionable little boy when I first saw “Oliver!” and the intimacy and earthy music hall drive of the original production has stayed with me ever since. I even sang “Where is Love?” on that famous timbered Sean Kenny set and though I never fulfilled my dream of getting beyond the audition and into the title role, it was a deeply formative experience.
The Cameron Mackintosh experience is epic by comparison but you have to hand it to the man – no one puts a show on a stage quite like him and every detail, both visual and auditory, wreaks of high-end, West End, class. There is nothing better looking on the London stage right now. And as we hurtled through the familiar cityscapes to one of the great knees-up show songs of all time – “Consider Yourself” – and the dome of Saint Paul’s rose up from the deepest recesses of the huge Theatre Royal stage, I found myself getting more than a little choked at having journeyed with this great show from its humble beginnings. Mr. Mackintosh will know how I feel.