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BWW Reviews: OLIVER Leaves the Audience Wanting More

Reviewed Friday 19th July 2013

Charles Dickens wrote a good few popular novels, most of which have been dramatised many times and a few of which have been turned into musicals. Perhaps the best know of these is Lionel Bart's Oliver!, based on Oliver Twist (or The Parish Boy's Progress), the tale of an orphan boy's trials and tribulations at the hands of members of the 1850s London underworld.

The Gilbert and Sullivan Society of South Australia are currently presenting the 1994 revival version of this musical, with new music, lyrics, dialogue, and some extended sequences. The changes do not stop there, however, as director, David Lampard, who also designed the production, brings much of the darkness of the novel to this production.

Musical director, Peter Johns, has also made an innovative contribution by using an orchestra beyond the capacity of the pit. The brass and percussion sections were in a large room at the front of the building, above the foyer with an array of audio-visual technology linking them to the conductor, the show on stage, and the sound mixer. All of the cast have head microphones, and an impressive array across the front of the stage picks up more of the singing. The sound is a credit to designer, Matt Curtis. The resulting sound from all of this sound technology, and the big orchestra, is impressive.

The technology continues with Daniel Barber's complex lighting design and Mark Wickett's videos, the lighting blending with the equally elaborate set to create the cold, foggy, darkness of Victorian London by night, the dingy decay of Fagin's lair, and the many other locations, with dirty windows flying in to act as a screen for the videos, adding a greater reality to some moments that could not have been as effectively achieved with live performance.

In the title role is Jack Raftopolous, his Oliver a beautifully naïve and gentle characterisation that endears him to the audience and gives other, less likely characters, a reason to be protective towards him. His clear voice suits his character and his intonation is always spot on.

Bev Shean, as Widow Corney, and John Greene, as Mr Bumble, the Beadle, are a good comic pairing, sparking off each other in both the flirtation scene, and the antagonistic interchanges once they are married.

Sold to the undertaker, Mr Sowerberry, and angered by the other employee, Noah Claypole, Oliver fights back with a bizarre and surreal scene including Mrs, Sowerberry, their daughter Charlotte, and the Beadle. Oliver escapes and runs away to London. David Lampard, Vanessa Lee Shirley, Fiona Fraser and Damien Quick generate plenty of laughter, as the Sowerberrys, and Noah, with the vampire influenced overtones to the scene being pushed to the limit.

In London, Oliver chances to meet Jack Dawkins, better known as The Artful Dodger, and is befriended and taken to join Fagin's gang of child thieves. Isaiah Fabbro, who plays the Dodger, is a new face but has plenty of confidence in the role. He brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm to Dodger, and a nice sense of fun and cheekiness as well.

Everybody knows that the real plum role in this show is that of the avaricious Fagin, and that role is taken by Rod Schultz, who gives us a younger and more robust character than is usual. This works just as well, thanks to his excellent interpretation and complete engagement with his character. There is still a lot of humour in his performance, but he, too, contributes to the darker approach to this production, putting the Victorian London that Dickens was criticising, back into focus.

The company's president, Paul Talbot, is highly sinister as the dangerous thief and murderer, Bill Sikes, so much so that he was greeted with loud booing, before huge applause took over, when he took his final bow. He seems to exude anger, and carry a cloud of terror with him, in a sterling performance. It is a little disconcerting, though, to find that Bullseye's real name is Sunshine.

The big surprise in this production, though, is Emma Bargery, who threatens to kick the role of Fagin into number two spot with her wonderful performance as Nancy, the hard done by, mistreated, live-in girlfriend of Sikes, who sees getting a black eye as a sign that he cares enough about her to chastise her so brutally. She gives a powerful performance and stops the show with a couple of her numbers.

There are equally good performances from those in the minor roles and both the adult and children's choruses are marvellous. With a company used to singing operetta this is to be expected, and long gone are the days when nobody moved when singing, with choreography also by the hard working David Lampard.

The Gilbert and Sullivan Society are on a winner with this production, but the season is short, so round up the family and book your tickets before word spreads and they sell out.

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From This Author Barry Lenny