Oliver, Glorious Oliver

Artful Dodger, Josh Arnold, with Oliver, played by Michael Alsop-Orchard. Photo PETE OLIVER.

Please sir, I want some more.

That plaintive plea starts Oliver Twist on an adventure and a literal journey first told by Charles Dickens’ 180 years ago before becoming a much-loved musical some 120 years later.

Oliver!, Lionel Bart’s musical retelling of Dickens’ tale, stands as a giant of a musical on the performing arts landscape, featuring a massive cast, a sprawling tale set across 19th Century England and a songbook that has stood the test of time and endeared itself to generations.

It’s a daunting challenge that the Rocky Hill Musical Theatre Company has taken on, but they’ve succeeded with elan and aplomb.

The story is well known, but in short, it’s the tale of orphaned Oliver who endures not only the loss of parents, but also enforced servitude, mistreatment, and entrapment by the sub class of London’s child street criminals.

He encounters hypocrites, cons, self-serving crooks and bureaucrats, and he eventually encounters love.

It’s an old story but the character types are as reflective of society now as they were back in the day. And like any story ever told, the two key ingredients to its successful telling are that it be a good story, well told.

As an enduringly popular show, featuring such a well-known songbook that includes  `Food Glorious Food’, `Consider yourself’, `You’ve got to pick a pocket or two’, `I’d do anything for you’, `Oom Pah-Pah’, `Who will buy’, `As long as he needs me’ and `Where is Love’, the “good story” part is sorted.

The “well told” part of the equation rests heavily on the vision and direction of Director Lynda Yeadon and Musical Director Deb McConnell and their crew, and the casting. And that casting is exquisite with all of the main characters well selected for and enthusiastically immersed in their roles. And the kids!?! We’ll get to the kids in a minute.

To the leads… and there’s no Oliver without Oliver. Michael Alsop-Orchard is the Oliver from central casting. His sweet, innocent demeanor coupled with an angelic voice to match would melt the heart and bring out the maternal side of any bloke.

His guide through criminal life, the Artful Dodger, is played with a brash, chummy cheekiness and striking maturity by Josh Arnold. Not only an experienced performer with the RHMTC, he has graced many stages including successful performances in Sydney Eisteddfods and more, and even if only based on this performance, it’s hard to imagine he won’t star on many greater stages in the very near future.

Rod McConnell’s engaging take on Fagin is played with Dick-Van-Dykean physicality, lightness and charisma, granting the character a sympathy and lovability not found in some interpretations.

Bianca Coombs, a mainstay of the local performing scene and an experienced stage performer, is a revelation in her RHMTC debut. She brings to the performance a raucous bawdiness balanced delicately with a heart-breaking sensitivity that drags her across the emotional spectrum. Her performance of “As long as he needs me” is a gut-punching emotional standout of the show.

Rounding out the leads is Drew Yeadon as Bill Sykes… a nasty piece of business to be sure, and played with seething Dickensian menace by Drew in only his second show with the Company. Best steer clear of Bill Sykes in the shadows. Or under a light. Or anywhere.

But the casting didn’t end with the leads. The quality of this production is due in no small part to the depth of talent. Ant and Deb Lewis squeeze every comedic moment available to them out of their roles as Mr and Mrs Sowerby. Sandi Bell and Richard Orchard add their considerable singing chops as the happily unhappy Mr and Mrs Bumble… the list goes on.

But the kids are the engine of this show. There are stacks and stacks of them and the most incredible part is that they are all little pros… never breaking character and all following their direction to the letter. An even more impressive feat for many of the junior stars, given this is their first time on stage.

While it’s great to see professional productions of a musical, there’s something powerful and fulfilling watching young talents sprout and find their talents in community theatre. And if you’re a company groupie, seeing the ongoing growth and development of kids from one show to the next is pretty exciting.

Case in point – Grace Robinson. From standard junior roles previously, she has stepped out in Oliver as a confident lead, not of the future but of the right now. Many others coming through are on the same trajectory.

The end result is a sum of the parts. Something like 70 people are involved in the production on and off stage. A sensational band under the baton of MD Deb McConnell, great stage crew, off stage crew, costume, choreography, makeup, sound and lighting… all play a part in delivering the end result. 

Oliver is a show that falls smack bang in the middle of RHMTC’s wheelhouse… a massive, challenging production, full of singing and dancing and with roles across the age spectrum.

In Oliver they chewed off quite a mouthful but the result is a meal to be savoured. A true show for all the family. Do yourself a favour. See it. And like Oliver, you’ll be wanting to come back for more.

  • Tickets available at Trybooking.com or at the Goulburn Medical Clinic, McKell Place Goulburn.

 

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