‘Oliver!’ was glorious.
Redcliffe Musical Theatre’s latest production ‘Oliver!’ transported audiences back to London 1850s. Redcliffe Entertainment Centre was buzzing with the 50-strong cast and live orchestra, who brought the iconic musical to life.
‘Oliver!’ is a musical by Lionel Bart, based on the classic novel by Charles Dickens. The story follows an orphan by the name of Oliver who runs away from the Workhouse and falls into a life of crime. There he meets colourful characters such as The Artful Dodger, Fagin and the formidable Bill Sikes.
Lighting design by Chris Walker was impactful and integral to create smooth set transitions and draw focus to certain areas of the stage. The background projections heightened the atmosphere of the London streets and the use of shadow and darkness during Bill Sikes’ scenes enhanced his mystery. The standout lighting moment was during the reprise of ‘As Long As He Needs Me’ where all the lights focussed on Nancy at the moment the music swelled for her heartfelt climax.
Sound design by Murray and the team at CPC Production was flawless. The volume of microphones and orchestra were perfectly balanced and the technical operation was on point. The use of a live orchestra enhanced the luxurious score.
Set design by Madeleine and Jonathan Johns was well thought through. The simplistic set pieces ensured transitions were swift and smooth. The two tier stage allowed for action to take place in many areas, enhancing the feeling of bustling London streets. Props and costumes by Preeta Harper, Lucy Farrell, Viv Moss and her team were authentic. Attention was paid to the period of the piece and the iconic looks of the central characters were maintained.
Madeleine Johns’s direction was natural and organic. The choice to bring in the curtains for some solo numbers was an interesting choice which helped to isolate the moment from the rest of the show. This technique worked particularly effectively for the reprise of ‘Reviewing the Situation’ where, coupled with the lighting, almost created a show within a show.
Musical direction by Rhonda Davison Irwin was exceptional. In addition to conducting the beautiful orchestra, Davidson Irwin was tasked with a large cast, many of whom were children. With the help of vocal coach Matthew Leigh, she excelled in this challenge and created a near-expertly sung musical. For a community production to have such accomplished musical numbers with perfectly blended harmonies must be applauded.
Choreography by Sara Jane Aistrope and Taylah McLennan was vibrant. With the majority of the dancing being performed by children, the use of simplistic movements and canons created a clever visual effect. The idea to have the children line up in height order with the smallest at each end was a powerful tableau to start the show.
Max Eilola shone in the title role. His sweet yet downtrodden disposition coupled with his beautiful voice, reminiscent of a choir boy, instantly endeared him with the audience. Eilola’s perfect rendition of ‘Where is Love’ was the most touching moment in the show and brought a tear to the eyes of more than a few audience members. Another memorable moment was the ‘Who Will Buy’ quartet, where Eilola led what transformed into a perfect harmony to end the song. As a young performer, Eilola certainly has a bright future.
Miguel Gambley’s portrayal of The Artful Dodger was spirited. His cheeky personality and cockney accent along with his strong vocals meant he embodied the character fully. Gambley’s rendition of ‘Consider Yourself’ was a joy to watch. His natural stage presence meant he easily stole the limelight, sometimes from the adult performers. A captivating performer, Gambley maintained his character and accent throughout the entire show with ease.
Thomas Armstrong-Robley did not put a foot wrong as Fagin. His physical embodiment of the character and mannerisms made his character instantly recognisable. His use of comic timing brought a lighter side to the show, which can risk becoming very dark. Armstrong-Robley handled Fagin’s songs with ease, both ‘You’ve Got To Pick a Pocket or Two’ and ‘Reviewing The Situation’ were the most entertaining numbers of the show.
Georgia Burnett was a feisty Nancy, her fiery and passionate nature on full display from the moment she stepped on stage. When teamed with the softer moments, Burnett’s Nancy was one of the most well-rounded characters in the show. Her rendition of ‘Oom Pah Pah’ was gutsy and she fearlessly commanded the show’s most well known number, ‘As Long As He Needs Me’. A standout moment was the reprise of ‘As Long As He Needs Me’, where Nancy comes to the heart wrenching decision that ultimately costs her her life. Burnett’s emotional vulnerability and powerful vocals drew the audience into the most devastating moment of the show and held them there.
Special mention to Alexander Thanasoulis who stepped into the role of Mr Bumble with two days’ notice, due to cast absence. He incorporated the use of his script on stage very well and took the role in his stride.
The children ensemble was varied in age, some as young as seven. Hats off to Jacob Robinson in the role of Nipper, though only in grade five and making his stage debut, his solo was received with cheering and applause. Seeing those tiny actors, many of whom were making their stage debut, reminds the audience what community theatre is all about.
Overall, Redcliffe Musical Theatre’s ‘Oliver!’ was exceptional. All the elements combined to create a show that will not soon be forgotten.
‘Oliver!’ performs until Sunday, 17 July 2022 at Redcliffe Entertainment Centre. For more information visit the Redcliffe Musical Theatre website.