Hard to find a more ideal Oliver!

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Emily Pogson as Nancy and 11-year old Willum Hollier-Smith in the title role of Oliver. Photo: Holly Treadaway

Musical theatre / “Oliver!”. Directed by Jude Colquhoun. At The Q, Queanbeyan, until October 6. Reviewed by BILL STEPHENS

THERE is a particular pleasure derived from Queanbeyan Players productions in watching members of the community step out of their comfort zone to entertain.

Few have any acting ambitions beyond delivering their lines accurately, singing in tune, and interpreting the direction to the best of their ability. 

The Lionel Bart musical, “Oliver!”, is a perfect choice for such a company. Based on the Charles Dickens novel “Oliver Twist”, the show is set in Victorian England and follows the adventures of an orphan from a workhouse who, in an effort to escape an apprenticeship to an undertaker, runs off to London only to find himself taken in by a group of thieves and pickpockets.

Despite the darkness of the storyline, the show is packed full of tuneful songs with plenty of meaty character roles providing opportunities for director Jude Colquhoun to indulge in judicious type-casting to highlight the various talents of her large cast.

Focusing her production towards school-holiday entertainment, Colquhoun has deliberately downplayed the darker Dickensian aspects of the musical and designed a flexible, uncluttered setting, which although providing little sense of time or place, when combined with Janetta McRae’s colourful costumes and Jodi Hammond’s resourceful, large-scale choreography, provided a series of attractive stage pictures and allowed the show to flow smoothly.

It would be hard to find a more ideal Oliver than Willum Hollier-Smith. Looking younger than his 11 years, with his cherubic face and silvery voice, Willum melted hearts and practically stopped the show with his lovely rendition of “Where is Love”. He also proved to be an intuitive actor, totally aware of, and participating in, the events taking place around him.

Emily Pogson is also beautifully cast as Nancy, bringing a convincing sincerity to her performance of “As Long As He Needs Me” as she attempts to justify her relationship with the abusive Bill Sykes, strongly played by Michael Jordan.

Anthony Swadling offers a sympathetic portrayal of Fagin, underplaying the dark undertones of the role, and Joss Kent is an appropriately cheeky Artful Dodger. Chris Bennie and Tina Robinson as Mr Bumble and Widow Corney, and Sarah Powell and John Potter and Mr and Mrs Sowberry, are standouts among the many character roles and all receive strong, attentive support from the large ensemble.

Though taking a little while to settle on opening night, Jen Hinton’s large orchestra provided lush accompaniment throughout, with a particularly impressive violin solo by Bronwyn Potter accompanied Fagin’s “Reviewing the Situation”. Good sound and lighting design enhanced the production, with special mention for the attractively designed programs which provide an essential souvenir of a well-drilled, entertaining production.

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