‘Oliver!’ the fabulous and much-loved show is based on the Charles Dickens novel ‘Oliver Twist’. Originally called ‘The Parish Boy’s Progress’, it was published as a newspaper serial from 1837–39. ‘Twist’ was Charles Dickens’s second novel. Even in his early writings, Dickens was inventing wonderful and unique names for his characters.
The musical ‘Oliver!’ premiered in the West End of London in June 1960 and ran for 2,618 performances. Lionel Bart wrote the music and lyrics. Later in 1960 the film was launched, winning six Academy Awards including Best Picture.
several years later, when Bart was an alcoholic and faced severe financial difficulties, he sold his past and future rights to ‘Oliver!’ to the entertainer Max Bygraves for £350. Bygraves later sold them on for £250,000.
Because of Fagin, the script was called antisemitic, however Bart and half the cast were Jewish and had no problem with the show. Four well-known actors / musicians who appeared in the first stage show were Phil Collins and Davy Jones (the Monkeys) as the Artful Dodger, with Tony Robinson (Blackadder’s Baldrick) and Steve Marriott (the Small Faces) as a couple of the Workhouse boys. Barry Humphries got his UK big break by playing the undertaker, Mr Sowerberry. Even Rowan Atkinson had a spell as Fagin in 2008.
Laughing Horse Productions are presenting this delightful family show with the support of Kwinana and Koorliny in the Koorliny Arts Centre on Sulphur Road in Kwinana. The two-and a half hour performance are at 7.30 on Friday and Saturday evenings until Saturday the 20th July. There are also SATURDAY matinees, not the usual Sunday ones, at 2.00 pm on the 13th and 20th July.
The Scene: 1870 in and around East London.
The set: the sets were designed by Adam Salathiel and Peter ‘Pear’ Carr, who were joined in the construction by Renee Bickford, the cast and the crew.
The orphans’ workhouse had 6 feet long hardwood kitchen tables and bench seats.
The impressive riverside scenes were dark and sombre, grey stone block walls. In keeping with the well-known song ‘Underneath the arches’, there was a set of stone steps leading up to a stone veranda with the arches beneath, where the tramps always slept.
Mr Brownlow’s house was represented by a leather armchair and a side table.
The undertaker’s shop had a workbench and coffin.
The wonderfully atmospheric lighting was designed by the director and operated by Denise Gallon who showed a good feel for the cues. The follow spot was accurately controlled by Samuel Kirk.
The well-balanced sound was designed by the Musical Director, Liam House, with the mic technicians Mishka Miller, Evan Bialas, Phil Bialas and Adam Salathiel taking care of the headsets – which worked perfectly.
The fast-moving production was managed and supervised by Kelly Salathiel, who had a real treasure in Stage Manager Jodie Mars. Jodie had her team knowing precisely where to go, then who had to do what. In a musical, the performers and orchestra can raise the excitement and pace, but it only takes one poor scene change to put the whole show back to square one. Well done the stage crew Bobby Garth, Glen Mars, Wayne Gale, Tiffany Gun, Toby and Bianca Franklin, Yvette Theodorsen and Adam Salathiel; I don’t think there was a single change that took more than 10 seconds. Brilliant.
The eye-catching poster, along with the clear colourful and easy to read programme came from the hand of Danni Close.
In the workhouse from Hell, the starving orphans are being fed gruel (watery porridge) but dream of the ‘Food Glorious Food’ seen on the staff table. A deserted foundling, Oliver Twist (Duncan Ferguson) who was delivered in the workhouse seven years earlier by Old Sally (Val Geeves-moving performance) courageously asks for more food. The arrogant beadle of the workhouse, Mr Bumble (Neil Young – fine voice), Mrs. Corney (Mishka Miller) and the Matron (Christine Durant) who are the heartless, greedy caretakers of the dosshouse are hassled by two kids, Captain (Isabelle Carr) and Nipper (Hunter Young).
Mr. Bumble declares his feelings to the widow. Mrs. Corney pretends to reject his advances, but Bumble pops the question. Mr. Bumble then sells Oliver to an undertaker as an apprentice – for slave labour. Mr Sowerberry (Jacob Smith) and his wife, Mrs Sowerberry (Rach Gilmour- best performance yet) are a heartless couple who order Oliver to sleep in the basement with the coffins.
When Noah Claypole (Edan Frazer), another of Sowerberry’s workers insults Oliver’s dead mother, Oliver beats him up. Mrs. Sowerberry and her ill-mannered daughter, Charlotte (Eve-Scarlett Trower) rush in and lock Oliver inside a coffin.
A week later Oliver escapes and he meets the Artful Dodger (Kelsey Morandin), a kind boy about the same age. Oliver joins him and is introduced to Fagin (Mark Thompson) a scheming career criminal, who takes in homeless boys and trains them to pick pockets. Oliver believes that the boys are simply making the silk handkerchiefs.
At ‘work’ Oliver meets Nancy (Georgia McGivern), the wife of Fagin’s best pickpocket, Bill Sikes (Peter ‘Pear’ Carr), who has graduated from stealing, to becoming an abusive husband and burglar. Despite this and because of love, Nancy tolerates him, but her sister Bet (Sophie Byrnes) is nearby to keep an eye on Bill.
Oliver is sent out with Charley Bates (Corban Fenton) and the other boys on his first pickpocketing job. The streets are crowded, and the young vendors are selling their specialities, strawberries (Bee Tandy), milk from the churn (Brittney Northcott) and roses at 10 pence a stem (Audrey Hall) – three beautiful singers.
When Dodger and Charley rob Mr Brownlow (Royce Newall) a wealthy old man, they run away but Oliver is arrested. Mr Brownlow is kind, gets Oliver off the charges and takes him home to Bloomsbury. Dr Grimwig (Evan Bialas) a medic and friend of Mr. Brownlow checks Oliver’s condition, then asks that Mrs Bedwin (Kelly Salathiel) takes loving care of the boy. Mrs B sings a song that Oliver recognises.
But for poor Oliver, a lot more trouble is not far away.
The melodious chorus and talented ensemble dancers were Abbey Allen, Amber Salathiel, Annick Spack, Ava Brady, Ethan Wiggin, Gabriella Vanni, Jessica Wiggin, Lacey Allen, Lili Thoms, Maddison Hasch, Madison Couzens, Mathilda Theodorsen, Mia Hendy, Phil Bialas, Renae Harmer, Sophie Collins, Sophie Kirk, Tara Butt, Taylor Hasch, Zachary Allen.
Liam House was the musical director and he led his 15-piece orchestra with plenty of bounce and vim. The orchestra were at the rear of the stage, behind a solid shoulder high wall which helped meld the instruments with no obvious domineering musicians.
The players were:- On reed – Joshua McMahon, Megan Davies, Alex Wallace. On horn – Sandra McKenna. On trumpets – Samantha Marley, Chris Zappa. Trombone – Alasdair Vincent. On strings, Violin – Patrick Meyer, Viola – Hanae Wilding, Cello – Elena Wittkuhn. On keyboard – Michael Baker and percussion – David Hardie.
With a dozen very well-known and much-loved catchy songs, including ‘Food, Glorious Food’, ‘Oliver!’, ‘Where Is Love?’, ‘Consider Yourself’, ‘You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two’, ‘I’d Do Anything’, ‘Be Back Soon’, ‘Oom-Pah-Pah’, ‘As Long as He Needs Me’, ‘Who Will Buy?’ and ‘Reviewing the Situation’ the whole evening was a total joy.
For many people this could be one of the first musicals they saw as young teenagers. With wonderful songs, excitement and a few dark – but not too frightening – moments, the film is still firm in their minds. The challenge for this talented group was could they be good enough to stop the comparisons flowing? Obviously, this production did not have the huge film budget, editing breaks, scenery or effects, yet this vivacious cast of youngsters and adult actors were brilliant. Any doubts just disappeared.
The choreography was outstanding. Most shows will have around two dozen dancers, this spectacle had 42 dancers. There must have been times when choreographer Zoe Jay must have been wondering why she started, but this cast are truly incredible. There were even four dancers who are only 7 yrs. Old; were they shy and nervous? No chance, they were power boxes who gave it everything. With a crowded stage and complex footwork, one could expect the odd tumble, but they dancers moved around surefooted. The children were not a single dance group but auditioned and chosen individually; yet they had tremendous repartee and chemistry, as though they had been together for years. Impressive tumbling and acrobatics by some very young members.
A director feels happy to get a set of good dancers, but these workhouse kids (the age range was from only 7 to about 14) and again in the street, had to sing with attitude, initially showing their anger at their living conditions, then as the street urchins had to look like angels as they emptied the shoppers’ pockets. An outstanding youth cast with massive drive. EVERY child anticipated their next move and the body movement required, certainly no lame ducklings catching up with the rest.
The mammoth show was directed by Adam Salathiel who has scored several awards and nominations over the years in all theatrical departments, best supporting actor, director, production, stage manager, costumes and set.
Fagin’s old age aches were conquered by Mark Thompson, who realises that if the walk is correct then the rest falls into place. Great singing too. The delightful street vendors oozed warmth and sang beautifully in a complex blend.
Georgia and Sophie filled the stage with their raucous harmonious songs.
I thought that Pear Carr as Bill was better than Oliver Reed in the film – boo hiss! He sang very well, was threatening and died stunningly in a heap. Great work.
Duncan Ferguson and Kelsey Morandin both auditioned for a minor dance or chorus part and these two 11-year olds were so assured and talented they got the child leads on the spot. Both showed major stage skills.
The show will suit even 6 or 7 yrs. old, but there is a dark passage at the end when Nancy is attacked but the children can be assured that it is pretend, as she comes on smiling for the curtain call a few minutes later.