Photo: Michael Moore
Oliver! Book, music and lyrics by Lional Bart. Orchestral arrangements by William David Brohn.
Queanbeyan Players at The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, September 27 – October 6, 2019.
Reviewed by Frank McKone
Queanbeyan Players have picked up on an interesting point about Oliver!, the musical, compared with Charles Dickens’ original novel, Oliver Twist. Director Jude Colquhoun writes “Yes, there are great, fun songs for the whole cast. The kids get right into it all but there is an underlying sadness to this story, and it isn’t necessarily Oliver’s. It is Nancy’s. We see her struggle with the life she has been dealt and, although she smiles through the pain, she doesn’t want this child to suffer.”
Her directing – with assistant director Christina Philipp; co-directing music with Jenna Hinton; and clearly working very closely with choreographer Jodi Hammond – was very successful on the musical comedy aspect which Lional Bart’s book emphasises.
Then, in the second half, Colquhoun comes to grips with the violence of Bill Sikes and his murder of Nancy, pushing the limits set by Bart (but not by Dickens) in Emily Pogson’s and Michael Jordan’s characterisations to make a clear and necessary statement for a modern audience about the issue of domestic violence.
In the end, since he wrote it this way, Bart wins the day, as did the Vernon Harris / Carol Reed movie (1968): we all cheerfully clapped along, whistled and whooped for the curtain call of 41 on the stage, as well as for the 26 in the orchestra under the stage in a show of high energy and great communication between cast and audience.
Picking out individuals for special praise can be unfair when actors and their characters naturally fall into classifications – kids, adults and principals – while the success of the show is how such a large cast worked so well together. The sense of teamwork, yet with individuals having their own characters even in large group numbers, bounced out to us (even up to my Row K), keeping up our lively interest.
But I would like to say that Willum Hollier-Smith surely has a great stage future ahead of him as an actor and singer; I appreciated very much Emily Pogson’s capturing of Nancy’s awful state of mind in the face of Michael Jordan’s terrifying viciousness; and Anthony Swadling, often quietly spoken and singing, made Fagin into an understandable survivor in a criminal world, rather than a merely melodramatic monster.
This Oliver!, then, was very well done and justifiably filled The Q on its last night.
If, though, you would like to consider what Lionel Bart might have done – if he had been a Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill (The Threepenny Opera) or a Stephen Sondheim (Sweeney Todd) – you could have a look at
An Analysis of Oliver Twist And Oliver!
Angela Marie Priley
Children's Literature Association Quarterly
Johns Hopkins University Press
Volume 18, Number 4, Winter 1993
Just Priley’s first page, which you can read online without needing Project MUSE authorisation, will show you what I mean.