'Oliver!' glorious 'Oliver!'

From the moment the lights rose on the Lower School production of ‘Oliver!’, the first strains of the famous Overture filling the hall and a procession of ashen-faced workhouse boys emerging onto stage in mournful unity, any question of ‘is it worth the waiting for?’ was met with a resounding ‘yes’. This production was, quite simply, superb. At turns hilarious, raucous, menacing and profoundly moving, watching the show it was hard to believe that this was anything less than a professional piece – truly testament to the exceptional direction and musical direction of Ms Fenton and Mrs Forrest-Biggs, the brilliant choreography of Miss Walrond, and the talented cast of over sixty actors and orchestral musicians.

One of the most striking features of this production was its immaculate level of attention to detail. The wonderful set, music and costumes transported the audience to the heart of Victorian London, with precisely choreographed ensemble scenes capturing the bustle and vitality of the Dickensian original - the haunting Who Will Buy?, for example, was truly a feast for the senses. Back in the workhouse, the mercenary machinations of Mr Bumble and Mrs Corney had the audience roaring with laughter, and in the funeral parlour the malicious Sowerberrys  brimmed with darkly comic energy, their exploits catapulting the unfortunate Oliver to his next destination: the capital.

As Oliver arrived in London to be cajoled into life as a junior felon, it was clear that this was a cast who were delighting in every moment of being on stage. All the while, the orchestra played seamlessly, displaying exceptional talent, dedication and energy in their superb performance throughout the evening. What a joy it was to see Oliver being swept up by the charismatic Artful Dodger and his gang of ‘ne’er do wells’, and to hear their dynamic renditions of Consider Yourself and Pick a Pocket Or Two. Grace’s performance as Fagin was remarkably nuanced, capturing both the vulgarity and vulnerability of his character. At the heart of the criminal underworld we were haunted by the terrifying spectre of Bill Sykes, portrayed with real malevolence by Beth. The unfolding of his tragic relationship with the effervescent Nancy struck to the heart of this production, evoking real pathos and not a few tears from the audience.

Oliver’s journey to love and acceptance with his grandfather Mr Brownlow, as the play reached its climax, was truly moving to behold. In these scenes, as throughout the production, Alice as Oliver shone as an actor of absolute integrity, captivating the audience with both her acting and vocal talent; it was impossible to leave unmoved by the purity and power of her performance.

As the audience left the show, humming the tunes (and even dancing a turn or two), it was clear that everyone who had watched glorious ‘Oliver!’ considered themselves exceptionally fortunate indeed.

Mrs Elisabeth Ravenscroft