|Emily Pogson as Emily, with the ensemble|
Book, songs and lyrics by Lionel Bart. Based on the novel Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens,
Director Jude Colquhoun and Co-Musical director with Jenna Hinton. Choreographer Jodi Hammond. Queanbeyan Players. The Q Theatre Queanbeyan. September 27 – October 6.
Reviewed by Phillip Mackenzie
Reviewed by Phillip Mackenzie
This production of Oliver! was above the average standard for the Queanbeyan Players and, indeed, for a number of local community company shows. The energy, discipline and clarity of the choreography and the accompanying band in the opening chorus – 'Food, glorious food' – set the bar high for the rest of the evening.
Since its first appearance on the London stage in 1960, Lionel Bart's Oliver! has been a winner for both professional and amateur companies world-wide. Adapted from Charles Dickens' novel, the musical tells how the eleven-year-old Oliver, an orphan in a 'charitable' institution, is sold into servitude in a funeral parlour from which he escapes to London, where he falls into the sleazy underworld and is eventually rescued by a benevolent gentleman who, improbably, turns out to be his grandfather so that, for the lad at least, everything ends up happily-ever-after.
Jude Colquhoun is Director and, with Jenna Hinton, Co-Musical Director, together with choreographer Jodi Hammond, presented a crystal-clear rendering of the plot and development of the multitude of characters; Colquhoun's set design was impeccable in its simplicity and versatility – basically, half-a-dozen tall panels which could be spun and rolled on casters into a variety of configurations with barely a pause between scenes varying from a dreary workhouse, to an undertaker's parlour, the dungeons and sewers of Queen Victoria's industrial London, and the morning brightness of a street market place ('Who Will Buy?').
Imaginative lighting by Jacob Aquilina was an essential part of creating the appropriate mood for each moment – sometimes subtle, sometimes dramatic, and rarely intrusive. The fifteen-piece pit orchestra deserved a special round of applause for its clarity and sensitivity – the (alas, anonymous) haunting violin accompaniment to Fagan's characterful 'Reviewing the Situation' (Fiddler on the Roof eat your heart out!) warranting special mention.
Janetta McRae's mammoth costume roster, from the grungy to the gorgeous, impressively captured the period and the sound system worked a treat – although the individual Cyborg-like bulbous mic devices used were so 20th century.
As for the cast, hardly a foot was out of place. Without an Oliver who could sing his heart out while acting and dancing like a trouper, you don't have a play – and Willum Hollier-Smith did this job in spades, never missing a beat in song or speech, reacting to his changing fortunes as any eleven-year old would do, and blending in with the tribe of urchins with the best of them. He was supported, especially, by Emily Pogson's tragic Nancy, fiercely aware of her individuality but captive to her love for the nasty Bill Sikes, played by Michael Jordan with a violence which might have been rounded-out with a more pathological sense of evil.
Nancy's 'As long as he needs me' is no gimme, but Ms Pogson brings it off with such conviction that the ambiguous reprise (is 'he' Sikes or Oliver ?) could do with less force and more reflection.
Anthony Swadling's Fagin, Bill's companion in crime, conjured up all the nefarious greed of his character, while managing to suppress some glimpses of a nascent human insecurity in his highly-entertaining set-piece 'Reviewing the Situation'.
Mr Bumble (Chris Bennie) and Joss Kent (Artful Dodger) head a further list of actors all of whom do considerable justice to their characters, right through to David Leigh doing his best to put flesh on the cardboard cut-out of Mr Brownlow and his entourage tucked away at downstage right.
And then the chorus: there is so much to commend their disciplined individuality and energy managed by Judi Hammond's well-judged choreography but here I must restrict myself to my memory of the musically and visually gorgeous 'Who will buy' scene suddenly turned on its head with the dramatic kidnap of Oliver.
Despite its uproarious 'Oom-Pah-Pah' opening, the second half of the performance faded a little in comparison to its predecessor, although 'Who will buy' and Fagin's comic reprise gave the whole show a restorative lift.
An Oliver! not to be missed!