13 JANUARY 2009

Taking a low-key part as Fagin in a production at his daughter Lily's school whetted Rowan Atkinson's appetite to play the role for real on the West End stage.

Now critics are hailing his portrayal of the villain in theatre empresario Cameron Mackintosh's latest revival of the musical Oliver as a masterpiece of comic timing.

And fans are so eager to catch his performance, which starts Wednesday at London's Theatre Royal Drury Lane, that the show is heavily booked until the end of July.

The show secured a loyal following even before it started as a result of BBC1 talent show I'd Do Anything, when Jodie Prenger was picked for the role of ill-fated Nancy by a public vote, along with the three young boys who'll fill the title role.

Blackadder actor Rowan was initially wary about returning to the stage after an absence of two decades, fearing a six-month stint as a character with a crooked posture would do his "back and neck no favours at all" .

He was eventually tempted back on to the boards, however, by the thought that "it's always nice to play a villain... they are always more fun than straight guys".

Photo: Getty Images
From Wednesday fans can see the Blackadder actor as the villain of the Dickens-based story - a part he first took in his daughter's school play
Photo: Getty Images
Rowan, who's not appeared in a theatre production for two decades, will be joined by the winners of BBC talent show I'd Do Anything
Photo: Getty Images
The Cameron Mackintosh revival has already garnered advance ticket sales of £15 million
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