Oliver! Book, music and lyrics by Lionel Bart. Directed by Jude Colquhoun. Co-musical directors Jude Colquhoun and Jenna Hinton. Choreography by Jodi Hammond. Queanbeyan Players. The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre. Sept 27 – Oct 6.
Ah for the days when musicals had titles that ended in an exclamation mark…. !
Queanbeyan Players have gone for a cheerfully solid production of Lionel Bart’s Oliver! and the results are certainly worth a school holiday excursion to The Q. Bart’s take on Charles Dickens’ original novel of the boy Oliver, left in the workhouse at birth and taken up eventually by Fagin and his school for young thieves and pickpockets is exuberantly grimy; funny, but with some very dark undercurrents.
Jude Colquhoun’s production has some strong adult players to carry some of the more disquieting themes. Emily Pogson makes an effective and clearly sung Nancy, at home both in the humour and the tragedy of the role. Anthony Swadling is interestingly low key as the dreadful Fagin, letting the audience swing between sympathy and abhorrence. Both he and Pogson are well at ease with the large and youthful cast of trainee pickpockets and workhouse urchins who are one of the show’s strengths.
Joss Kent has clarity and some charm as The Artful Dodger. Michael Jordan’s Bill Sykes is a terse and disturbing presence. Alyssa Anderson as the quiet Bet offers unobtrusive support to Nancy.
There’s a tribe of adult Dickensian characters, some of whom could pick up their cues more smartly and labour their roles less, but the show is suitably peopled. The set is quickly changed around but struggles sometimes to evoke time and place. It and (at times) the cast are not assisted by a few eccentric lighting choices (keep it simple, keep it still, keep it focussed, it’s not a rock opera, let the audience see the soloists’ faces…).
However, you’d go a long way to find a more splendid Oliver than Willum Hollier-Smith whose assured performance bids fair to act and sing everyone else off the stage.
And the deft enthusiasm of the younger chorus lifts the whole show and reminds us of how good a storyteller Dickens was and what a great musical Lionel Bart made out of the original.