Oliver

Date 17th May 2018
Society BANOS Musical Theatre
Venue Epsom Playhouse
Type of Production Musical
Director Lynda Barrett-Mercer
Musical Director Brian D Steel
Choreographer Kelly Neilson and Paige-Leanne Fayers

Report

Author: Jon Fox

This now legendary show is so often performed at amateur level as it is a theatre filler and the many children used ensures a plentiful supply of seats sold to relatives and school friends.

Director Lynda Barrett-Mercer opted to use a basic balustrade set with prominent steps down to stages left and  right and adapted as necessary to make this fit all the many changes of scene. With clever use of lighting, courtesy of Amy Worrall, this decision proved a wise one and thus the show flowed relatively seamlessly without wholesale cumbersome set changes.

Lynda used many individual touches to give character and individuality to scenes. I especially liked the "God is Love" sign as the orphan children were treated so cruelly. This spoke volumes about the huge and obvious gap between the haves and the have nots in Victorian London. This theme was highlighted throughout this production giving added drama to Dickens' great work, courtesy of Lionel Bart's own genius.

This production was underpinned by several top rate, even professional standard, principal performances. Francis Radford was a totally mesmeric Fagin with incredible face, hair and teeth make up.  The make up team of Kirsten Massingham with Stevi Magik, Gina Gravenell, Abi Moore, Molly Bialkowski, Lindsay Massingham and Ella Addison did an amazing job on the whole cast.

All the main principals gave top class perforamances, especially Teri-Ann Carter as a feisty yet vulnerable Nancy, Holly Artis as Bet was a graceful foil. Tom Paine as a truly frightening Bill Sikes, Colin Bousfield as a pompous, cowardly Mr Bumble, Monica Turnbul as a scheming Widow Corney, Paul Bullock as a put upon Mr Sowerberry and Sue Massingham as a magnificent "haridan" Mrs Sowerberry.

Among the child players, Sean Munro really stood out as the Artful Dodger. This mere 11 year old boy has a quite obvious feel for the stage and, Fagin apart, was the star of this production. I predict a big future for him.

Another excellent performance was given by 10 year old William Wilson who was the epitome of what Oliver should be. I was also very impressed with his performance and his "Where is Love" was beautifully sung. Oliver Whiter as Dodger and Alfie Turnbull as Oliver shared these wonderful roles in other performances. Charlie Stewart did well too as Charlie Bates, again sharing the role on other performances with Zack Harding. 

An honourable mention too for young James Goodman as the cowardly Noah Claypole and Emma Bullock as the simpering Charlotte.        

I was pleased with the general standard of discipline and acting of the workhouse children.              

Steve Clemo was a kindly Mr Brownlow, Carole Daniels was his dutiful housekeeper Mrs Bedwin and John Daniels as the delightfully ridiculous Dr Grimwig, one of Dickens' best cameo roles! All gave sterling support - Judy Southey as Old Sally "died" so dramatically, which I loved!.                         

The singing was impressive in the main, especially Nancy, who had a lovely voice and could really act and move; Bet too! Francis milked his "Reviewing the Situation" for all it was worth, embellishing the ghastly, but still likeable - in some ways - character of Fagin with an individualism that only the cream of the crop can give. A performance of this magnitude is rare on the amateur stage!

Highly experienced musical director Brian D Steel with his hugely talented violinist wife Barbara along with five other dextrous musicians playing another nine instruments (eleven in all) gave a professional quality to the show's music. Much of it was hauntingly played, none better than the violin in "Reviewing". BANOS also boast the advantage of a vocal coach in the person of Sarah Higginbotham, who had clearly used her talents to fine effect.

Lois Hatt with her team provided fine costumes and all looked appropriately dressed in their various characters. The huge difference between the lavishly dressed governors and the workhouse kids in their "rags" was starkly displayed.

Director Lynda Barrett-Mercer used many individual touches during the performance. Widow Corney's "toy" cat and her cockney accent and flirting with the only too willing Bumble were top notch. I liked Oliver fbeing orced to hold his "Boy for Sale" sign too, which starkly showed the dreadful Victorian cruelty.

Kelly Neilson and Paige-Leanne Fayers choreographed and their dance routines were lively, crisp and well rehearsed. Company singing in general was good, though the ensemble in "Boy for Sale" was a little uneven.

In common with many show Olivers, the scene when an outraged Oliver, goaded beyond endurance by Noah, finally turned upon him was a little unrealistic. I realise health and safety forbids much, but it looked rather sloppy and not for real. "Consider Yourself" was an excellent company scene led by the admirable Dodger (again!), the audience clapping in time with the music showed their obvious appreciation. The freeze during Oliver's "stealing" of Brownlow's hankie worked well.  Another highlight hankie scene was in Fagin's den with Oliver being taught how to pick pockets. Pick a Pocket or Two and Be Back Soon were marvellously staged and thrilling to behold. Oom-Pah-Pah together with the whole company support ran these very close.

One aspect I did not think well done was Sikes' demise. It was scarcely noticeable and a most important dramatic moment in the show did not work well. "Who will buy" worked well, once we had the full chorus onstage, though all the main streetsellers sang well and looked the part.

Lighting by Amy Worrall was most effective, creating intense atmosphere, many of the darker scenes being very real too. Sound by Colin Hannah and Louise Carter was assured.

In all, this was a high class production with pace, flow, real characters, strong chorus support and good change of mood and use of atmosphere. It is among the very best of the very many "Olivers" I have seen.