Date 6th October 2021
Society TOPS On Stage
Venue Thameside Theatre
Type of Production Musical
Director Simon Lambert
Musical Director Richard Langstone
Choreographer Emma Wilson


Author: Zahna Hull

TOPS had the awful task of having to cancel their performances of Oliver when COVID 19 changed our world more than a year ago, and in the programme, Simon Lambert gives a fantastic intro to the play and to the group, explaining how much hard work it has taken to get back on track now that restrictions have been lifted.

My first visit to TOPS on Stage was a wonderful experience. I love the Thameside Theatre, which is under threat of closure, and it was the perfect venue to house a very professional looking and slick show. The front of house team was very welcoming and this gave a hint of the standard of the show we were about to see. It was great to observe the orchestra from our seats and as the music began it was hard not to smile at the familiar sound, and relax back into being at the theatre.

Every scene was clear, costumes were excellent and the choreography saw every level and every corner of the stage being used; the effect of the ensemble numbers was a feast for the eyes and ears.

The hard work alluded to by Simon was plain to see in the performance of the entire company from the principal actors right through to the stage crew, lighting and sound.

On the night I saw the show, Oliver was played by Alfie Gostling, he had a pure clear tone, was confident and acted the part with just the right hint of innocence, playfulness and pathos. Lily Grayling played The Artful Dodger, another accomplished performance from such a young actor, Lily led the group of pickpockets with flare, and her strength linked together aspects of the story well.

The ensemble of children was a joy to watch. They all worked hard, sang beautifully and acted with enthusiasm. From the tallest boy to the smallest girl, they should all be proud of what they have achieved. I must also pick out Alan Jones who played Charley Bates as he had a cheeky demeanour that suited the part well. I really enjoyed ‘You’ve got to pick a pocket or two.’  

Another attractive aspect of TOPS is the great mix of ages in the company, the experience and enthusiasm of the adults contrasted against the shiny exuberance of the children meant that the company did ‘Oliver’ justice.

The costume and make-up enhanced the great characterisation of the actors. Stuart Crawley’s portrayal of Bumble was classic. He looked the part, and gave a good insight into the two sides of his character especially in the scenes with Dawn Peat as Widow Corney, another classically Dickensian character. The scenes were both comedic and pathetic. Many scenes in Oliver can be heartrending especially when you know how life has changed in the years since it was written. For younger audiences this performance holds up the inhumanity of the time, the sexism, violence, fear, greed and avarice and makes it palatable. However, when you come across characters like The Sowerberry’s and the evil Bill Sykes you really take a dislike to them. This, to me, is a sign of good acting. Josh Handley portrayed undertaker, Mr Sowerberry very well. From the ingratiating foster parent to the drunk opportunist. Josh was pale and doleful but he played other parts in the ensemble and he was equally strong in them all, displaying his versatility. The same can be said for Lisa Povey. I enjoyed the way she turned from being caring to ghastly, showing no empathy for the plight of Oliver.  The Sowerberry’s daughter Charlotte played by Charlotte Lake was hilarious. She was definitely her mother’s daughter in the Sowerberry family and her liaison with Noah Claypole, played by Aaron Andrews was painfully, embarrassingly, brilliant.  Noah was another actor that showed his versatility as we saw him later in the piece, transformed.

I have great things to say about the entire cast, all of whom sang with good diction, clarity and in tune.

Nancy, played by Mary Bloss was beautiful, much loved, and had a lovely tone that made her numbers believable. Bill Sykes was evil. You could see how much Chris Foale enjoyed this role and when I learned he’d been training for the London marathon, as well as rehearsing, I understood why he was so slim. I thought Sykes might be a broader chap but Chris played him convincingly.

I just loved Vic Gray’s Fagin. His costume, his wig, his gait, his voice, his singing voice too, were synonymous with all the great Fagin’s I have seen before. Fagin ingratiated himself with whomever he needed to and charmed the boys into doing his bidding. He is a kind of ‘skewed’ Robin Hood character who you can’t help cheering for. He and Dodger had a good stage chemistry. Well done to both.

As you may notice from the words above, I really enjoyed this show. I felt the warmth from the whole company and their hard work was reflected in the performance. I have no doubt that the young actors who played Oliver and Dodger on other evenings were equally as strong. Indeed, I think I spotted them playing other characters during this performance and wish I could have seen it twice.

Thank you all for inviting me.