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Emily Pogson as Nancy and Willum Hollier-Smith, 11, who has the title role in “Oliver!”… he says he’d love to perform more in musical theatre but not in movies. Photo: Holly Treadaway

Eleven-year-old Willum Hollier-Smith is revelling in his role as Oliver in the new production for Queanbeyan Players, writes arts editor HELEN MUSA.

“ALL the songs are really fun to sing,” says 11-year-old Willum Hollier-Smith as he rushes in from a photo call with Holly Treadaway clutching a cypress pine begging bowl made by the Queanbeyan Men’s Shed.

He gets to play Oliver for Queanbeyan Players in the famous musical based on Dickens’ “Oliver Twist” and he couldn’t be happier, telling us, “I’ve got to be really good friends with the cast.”

Willum will turn 12 while he’s Oliver but he’s been studying singing since age 7, nowadays with Teresa Rayner.

But the theatre is less familiar to him, although he recently dressed up as “a muddled up Harry Potter” for Book Week at Forrest Primary School. Playing Oliver has given him a taste for it, and he’d love to perform more in musical theatre but not, he says, in movies.

He hasn’t yet had a chance to read “Oliver Twist” but has strong feelings about the characters and the numbers. His favourite songs are “I’d Do Anything for You,” and “Where Is Love?” 

He likes Fagin at first, saying, “after all he’s given me a home.” As well, he feels very sad when Nancy gets killed and equally happy to be with the kindly Mr Brownlow.

Emily Pogson, who has recently finished an intensive musical theatre course with Perform Australia, plays Nancy, a character she describes as “a gentle soul who wants to save the kids.” 

Her tragedy is that she loves the violent Bill Sykes and can’t leave him – something like the Stockholm Syndrome, where’s she’s attracted to her abuser, who gives her a sense of security. Unsurprisingly, her favourite song is “As Long as He Needs Me.”

“I love playing her,” she says, “Nancy’s a strong woman who’s drawn the short straw, but when she meets Oliver she feels so strongly that she wants him not to have the same life as hers that she sacrifices her life for him.”

“’Oliver!’ is not only popular but it’s up-to-date,” says cast member and Queanbeyan Players stalwart, Alison Newhouse, who play Oliver’s aunt, Mrs Bedwin.

“Of course, it’s a classical classic musical with all the great songs people know, but the other thing is that it shows different characters in different moods,” Newhouse says.

“The whole atmosphere changes whenever Bill Sykes is around, it happens in the song ‘Oom-Pah Pah’ when he suddenly walks in.

“The show is easy to follow, with lots of clear messages and fun, with songs like ‘Consider Yourself’ – above all, it’s heart-warming.”

The most beautiful song of all, in her view, is “Who Will Buy?”, which she describes as “surreal and beautiful”.

“Domestic violence and homelessness are a problem and the musical helps make people realise those things are still around these days,” Newhouse adds. 

With this in mind, the company is holding special fundraising shows on October 2 and October 4 for the ACT Domestic Violence Crisis Service and Raw Potential Canberra, as well as a low-cost 2pm matinee on October 3 during the school holidays, to encourage families to come.

“Oliver!”, The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, September 27- October 6. Bookings to or 6285 6290.


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Helen Musa
“CityNews” arts editor

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