25th April 2013
Memorial Hall, Wootton Bassett
Type of Production
Russell Langdown & Gemma Short
Author: Graeme Savage
Oliver is one of the best-loved and best-loved musicals of all time, and as such presents a difficulty for a director - how to make it relevant and still appealing, without appearing to go through the motions? The answer for WBLOS was to marry Russell Langdown’s very traditional direction with the company’s boundless enthusiasm and some lovely character roles to make a very enjoyable evening.
The decision to build a thrust stage, with audience on three sides was a nice touch, bringing us a lot closer to some of these well known characters, and by having characters variously running, chasing and traipsing through the audience, we were completely immersed in Dickens’ tale. There can’t be many productions where Bill Sykes has met his end literally at the feet of the audience, but it was a credit to the cast that by this stage we were so gripped by their performances that it didn’t feel at all unusual or awkward. All signs that this rapidly improving company is unafraid to take risks and make interesting decisions, even with their more traditional productions.
The cast were all in good voice and easy to hear clearly (another advantage of the thrust stage) over Richard Abrams’ well-balanced orchestra. Occasionally there were times that the cast and orchestra seemed at odds over tempo, and both were a little hesitant, but these moments soon passed, and I’m sure would have settled further after opening night.
The chorus work in Who Will Buy?, Consider Yourself and Oom-Pah-Pah was very precise, nicely performed and full of energy.
In a strong company, in which everyone made a great effort with their characters, there were for me a couple of standout performances in the chemistry and, at times quite sinister, comedy between Stuart Dark’s Mister Bumble and Louise Van Der Watt’s Widow Corney - both making the most of the comedy, but also believable when it comes to ruling their workhouse with fear and abuse! The Sowerberry family deserve a mention for some great physical comedy in trying to capture Oliver, and Rob Hall’s Fagin was a very well constructed character, with consistent accent and interesting little mannerisms and tics throughout, although for me, Reviewing the Situation was one of the numbers which could have done with being just a little faster, to avoid the comedy feeling a little forced. Ethan Hughes as Oliver himself gave a very confident performance, with a very moving delivery of Where Is Love?
The set was simple but effective, with the London skyline across the stage, acting as orchestra screens too, which helped with the balance; and the furniture, props and costumes all very well sourced for the period. At times, it would have benefitted from a little more colour in the lighting, just to help differentiate between moods and areas, and occasionally more focus on individual characters but it is a difficult space to light, especially with the thrust stage.
Congratulations to you all for a delightful production, and yet more full houses and sell-out notices.