Is it worth the waiting for, if we live ‘til 84?

I’ve become a huge fan of Bournville Musical Theatre Company in recent years, so I particularly looked forward to their latest presentation – Oliver. And not only did I see the show, I made four separate trips. This meant I could evaluate the performances from both casts of children which had been separated for the run.

Now, anyone who has knowledge of musicals will recognise Food Glorious Food, Got to Pick a Pocket, I’d Do Anything, As Long as He Needs Me, and … the list goes on. And if you think you are not that well up on the show, you’d be surprised how many songs you actually do know: It’s a Fine Life, Boy for Sale, Where is Love, Be Back Soon, Reviewing the Situation and the title song – Oliver. In addition, to those made famous by the 1968 Carol Reed film, there are some great tunes missed out in that medium: That’s Your Funeral, My Name and I Shall Scream. All of these were delivered without exception by a fantastic cast throughout, be they principals or chorus who excelled during Consider Yourself, Who Will Buy and Oom-Pah-Pah.

In the lead roles we had James Whatmore and Billy Stait as Oliver with Hayden Stocker and Jack Smyth (Artful Dodger). As for the rest of the children which included Flynn McBride-Hogbin and Cameron Dews as Charlie, I could not separate which was the best as each were of a high standard. And the same can be said for the entire performances. All top quality. The only criticism I could have would be a lack of inclusion with the children restricted to only boys.

Of the adult roles, I must lay great praise for Sophie Wood as Nancy with the ovations saying it all. Excellent in every department. Now, it’s easy to copy Ron Moody in the role of Fagin but Phil Snowe made this role his own with strong characterisation. As Bill Sykes, Jimmy Van Hear was a truly menacing figure, making me genuinely frightened at times whereas there was good support in the Nancy/Fagin scenes from Rhian Heeley as Bet.

Oliver is a different show in a way due to some scenes being more akin to mini episodes, which, in fact, was how the original Oliver Twist was published beginning in 1837. Of these segments, we first see the workhouse where Kris Evans and Jill Hughes were brilliant as Mr Bumble and Widow Corney. Then we had my favourite part of the show, the undertakers. Jonathan Eastwood gave a sublime depiction of the drunken Mr Sowerberry and was well supported by Karen Lane (Mrs Sowerberry), Natalie Buzzard (Charlotte) and Stuart McDiarmid (Noah Claypole). Finally, there was the Brownlow household with great rapport between John Clay (Mr Brownlow), Colette Preece (Mrs Bedwin) and John Morrison (Dr Grimwig). Credit must also go to the street sellers: Claire Brough, Rachel Fox, Adam Heeley and Lily Moore.

At the helm in direction was Terry Wheddon whose hard work was evident with the results on stage. Also, the fabulous choreography of Chloe Turner. Not an easy task with such a large cast but top drawer on the nights I was there. Chris Corcoran had the job of bringing together the vocals, backing them with a great orchestra. The icing on the cake for a magnificent show.

Now I always like the random and bizarre, and there was no better example of this than one of the street signs on the London cloth. Have you seen the industrious fleas? Okay … And then the voice from the audience during the rendition of I Shall Scream when a child shouted out, “Scream then!” Oh, little things amuse me.

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

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