On the last day of November and just before every theatre in the country is taken over by pantomime, Sale's Waterside Arts Theatre played host to Junior Stage 80's production of Lionel Bart's musical adaptation of the Dickens classic, Oliver Twist.
The longevity of this Musical is really quite phenomenal, and I am sure Bart himself never thought that it would still be going strong now when it was premiered in 1960. And yet, it is still a perennial favourite for societies up and down the country, despite it requiring some very talented character actors both juvenile and adult to carry it off properly.
The show was somewhat late starting this evening which never really puts me in a good frame of mind when this happens without explanation or apology, however, hearing a voice-over of Fagin introducing the show and doing the usual phone switch-off speech in character was actually quite a nice touch, and the set looked really rather impressive too. It showed us a London backdrop, with a large wooden and brick bridge at the back with two archways underneath, and smaller bridges either side, with a floor space at the front with trestle tables and benches. It afforded three different heights, and as the boys marched on to the opening number these levels were utilised superbly making some lovely pictures.
The problem was that this was the set for the entire Musical, and with only a token addition of a side flat on a dolly or a small table and chair we were given countless other scenes with this omnipresent. For me, that just fell a little flat. Such an impressive and realistic structure pitted against an almost Brechtian use of set and scenery for the other scenes didn't seem to gel somehow.
However, that I realise is simply a personal choice, and so let's move on to the performers. 11- year old Jason Goldman took the title role, and proved to be a very angelic and righteous Oliver. A lovely singing voice too (although the sound levels were not right and his mic had been turned too high!) and a definite crowd pleaser. Playing opposite him, an older and wiser 15 year old Mark Jacobs as The Artful Dodger, and he really made the role his, enjoying every minute of it. The other youngster to impress was Alex Waxman as Bet. It's a small and almost insignificant role but her acting and singing were excellent.
Among the adult actors then, in general the standard was very high indeed, and some lovely characterisations came through, even from those who have minor roles, such a Mr and Mrs. Sowerberry (Andrew Farley and Jude Moryoussef). And Heather Bowan's Widow Corney owed more than a hat-nod to Angela Lansbury.
Nancy was played by Debbie Hilton, and she simply commanded the stage on her every entrance. A real and likeable performance with some very plaintive and emotive singing. But the show was almost stolen by Jeremy Kay, enjoying every second as the aging kind-hearted thief with a conscience, Fagin. Obviously, a consummate performer, Kay's portrayal owed much to those who have gone before him, but there was also much there that belonged to Kay too and I really enjoyed this interpretation of the role.
The ensemble of both older and younger society members were all solid and well directed; and with a live band at the side of the stage, lead by Marilyn Blank, playing some of the most tuneful and accurate music I have heard from an Amateur company's band in quite a long while, this was a highly enjoyable and very professionally produced production. I have never come across this society before, but I will certainly be very keen to see what they have in store for us in 2017.
Reviewer: Mark Dee
Reviewed: 30th November 2016