Date 28th October 2016
Society Harleston Players
Venue Archbishop Sancroft High School
Type of Production Musical
Director Joe Edwards
Musical Director Pam Vinten-Phipps
Choreographer Anna Payne


Author: Terry Rymer

 Harleston tackle a classic tale and enter the realms of ‘big’ musicals. A much performed and admired story with a mixture of, and to quote the young director “ fine mixture of dark, gritty plot and moving, unforgettable songs.” His recognition of these attributes helps recognise why this Oliver is a memorable piece of theatre! So with this in mind he sets out to achieve the objective of pleasing an expectant and no doubt knowledgeable audience…

  Well, from the outset we were welcomed by a tableau of the Workhouse and its disparate bunch of orphans who are a trifle (good pun!) clean but none the less unruly as they indulge in the gastronomic ‘delights’ of the workhorse staple diet… gru..ell.! and the rendition of ‘Food Glorious Food’. Good start and of course Oliver (Robin de Berniere- Smart) showing considerable spirit decides he wants “some more”…little did he know what a cataclysmic story those simple words would unfold. He gave a strong and believable performance throughout. The Wrath of Beadle, Workhouse Steward Mr Bumble  (Tim Hall), expressed with extreme staff banging and expletive guttural language, unleashed an unholy riot as Oliver attempted to escape. I would have liked a bit more ‘ins and outs’ as the rather clean bunch of orphans attempted to distract the Beadle and perhaps prove more of an obstacle as Oliver made his escape!        No matter, the story picks up steam as Mr Bumble and Widow Corney (Dawn Symonds) create a comedic scene as she attempts to ‘resist’ his attempts to ‘seduce’ her into his arms, a real cameo to enjoy as he at first encourages and then regrets his actions. Perhaps a trifle gratuitous and smacking of pantomime but in itself a scene to savour.   But this show is about Oliver and his fortune is now in the hand of a local undertaker Mr Sowerberry (Grant Fishill) and Mrs Sowerberry, (Cherryl Jeffries) his wife, who see an opportunity to use Oliver’s ‘angelic’ features to their advantage.  Oliver responds badly to Noah Catchpole (Joshua Gould) an obsequious undertakers assistant, and indeed gets the better of him in a well depicted ’David and Goliath’ scrap before making good his escape.  The Sowerberrys have another almost separate cameo as they respond  and they perform a comedy duo song ‘Would You Ever’, ending with Mrs S depositing her bottom in a coffin!! These almost detached duo’s are entertaining and really well defined but somehow seem to perhaps upstage the story.

 Meanwhile Oliver is again on the run and ends up meeting The Artful Dodger (Matt Bruty) who in a lively well considered performance shows Oliver the way to Fagins ‘Harse!’ Where of course he meets Fagin (Steven Phipps) who gives this iconic role his own well crafted interpretation and leads his nefarious ‘gang’ of child criminals in some well recognised numbers including ‘You’ve Gotta Pick a Pocket or Two’ all performed with style and with some nicely choreographed moves from Fagin, Oliver and the Gang, who were to a man/ boy, enthusiastic throughout! Now Fagin is in the debt of Nancy (Beth Spaul) as a sort of Mother figure to the boys and a friend to him and she has a soft spot for Oliver. She later returns Oliver to Fagin, a chance she comes to regret, as her ‘boyfriend’ the sadistic Bill Sykes (Steve Askew) shows no mercy as he gives a strong interpretation of this role and the song ‘My Name’… Nancy sings the well known song ‘As Long As He Needs Me’ with poignant emotion but perhaps her persona needed a bit more…er… street wiseness and maybe a costume befitting her dubious lifestyle? Her friend Bet (Ellie Ryan) was suitably supportive.  Bill on the other hand was a trifle too violent for my liking with not even a scrap of humanity (and no dog, Bullseye is almost a must…although I understand the difficulty especially performing in a school!). The ensemble and smaller cameos were well delivered Dr Grimwig (David Cumming) was believable but the ‘upstage setting’ lost some of the humour in this scene.

 Overall this was a ‘Fine Life’ production with much to enjoy but special praise to the young ensemble who will remember this as their first really ‘big’ musical experience…presumably some are in the imminent Harleston Youth production?

 An enjoyable evening with so much to savour. Well done!