Watermill Theatre - Oliver!
31st July to 19th September 2015.
Review from Newbury Theatre.
Let’s face it, Oliver! is a big show. It’s been on at the London Palladium, and there’s a large cast (although a lot of them are pint-sized), plus an orchestra. So how does it all fit onto the Watermill’s stage? It’s a tight fit at times, but that’s quite appropriate for Fagin’s den, and director Luke Sheppard says, “we’ve strived to create a production that responds to the natural architecture of The Watermill… it almost feels like we are bringing it home”.
It’s the story of Oliver Twist, starting off in a northern workhouse, sold off as an undertaker’s assistant when he asks for more food, escaping to London where he falls in with the Artful Dodger and Fagin, meets Nancy and Bill Sikes and gets looked after by Mr Brownlow.
It is, of course, a Watermill actor/musician production, and when the cast aren’t acting they play their instruments offstage to the left and right, and onstage in the ‘upstairs’ part of the set. The music and miked singers are a bit loud – maybe the musicians and the sound operator could take it down a notch?
The main comedy element comes from Mr Bumble (Graham Lappin) and Widow Corney (Susannah van den Berg) who work splendidly together, first coyly courting, then miserably married.
Cameron Blakely is a sympathetic Fagin with hardly a trace of his dark side and a beguiling rendering of I Think I’d Better Think It Out Again. On the other hand, Kit Orton as Sikes is thoroughly menacing and nasty.
Alice Fearn is a brash and brassy Nancy. She has a powerful voice and belted out the numbers, but I felt needed a bit more tenderness in As Long as He Needs Me.
And then there’s the children. Wow! 33 children are involved, in three shifts. They are all from the local community, some take part in the Watermill’s youth theatre groups but none have had any formal training. And they are great! Very well disciplined in both acting and choreography (a credit to choreographer Tim Jackson and resident director Beth Flintoff). On the night I was there, Dodger was played by Rhydian Watson, with a strong singing voice, and Oliver by Raiko Gohara – very good acting and, as with all the children, good reactions throughout to the ongoing action.
Tom Rogers’ set was a masterpiece, conjuring up the murkiness of Victorian London, with bits smoothly moving and sliding to give the different scenes. And for a change, the second half started in the Watermill’s garden with Oom Pah Pah.
The songs were a major part of the show, with many reprises – and why not? Lionel Bart’s songs are an enduring delight, and we got some rousing ensemble numbers like Consider Yourself.
I confess that Oliver! is my favourite musical, but you’d be mad not to see this feelgood production. I want some more!
Review from the Newbury Weekly News.
Consider yourself part of the company
The Watermill’s trademark actor-musicians supported by its youth theatre actors in a memorable show
Oliver!, at The Watermill, Bagnor, until September 19
Take The Watermill's brilliant professional actor musicians, add three teams of enthusiastic local children, put them together in Lionel Bart's Oliver! and the audience can consider themselves privileged to watch the result.
If you had the feeling that Oliver! is performed so often it has become too familiar, then forget it. This show comes up fresh as a daisy and bounces along, alternately making you laugh and weep for the young boy who dared ask for more.
It began with the reverberating sound of a gong, the actor/musicians played triumphantly and then the Tuesday night team of 11 children poured on stage to get to grips with demanding Food, Glorious Food. Their acting and the cohesion of their movement was quite simply stunning, as it was throughout the performance.
The parts of Oliver and the Artful Dodger changed, depending on which team was on stage and on Tuesday night it was Raiko Gohara, who plaintively sang Where Is Love? and worked well with the strong-voiced Rhydian Watson as the Artful Dodger.
(In the other teams Oliver was played by Arthur Burdess or Thomas Kerry and the Dodger by Ed Betton or Archie Fisher). The joy and sense of fun that came over from the children was infectious – they loved what they were doing and so did the audience.
However good the children, the brilliant professionals more than held their own, bringing to every part something new, so that the whole production sparkled. This was especially so with Fagin (Cameron Blakely) in the lively Pick a Pocket Or Two and the poignant Reviewing the Situation. Alice Fearn was a gorgeous, bosom-heaving Nancy, belting out It's A Fine Life and Oom-Pah-Pah! and extracting all the emotion in the charismatic As Long As He Needs Me! The audience loved her. When adults and children came together in the big happy numbers, the stage became a whirlpool mix of action, music and jollity – a sure recipe for a smile.
This is the first time that The Watermill has added local children to the professional company and it was a great success in a show which lends itself to the idea. Everyone involved, on and offstage, deserves high praise and director Luke Sheppard, musical director Joey Hickman and choreographer Tim Jackson must be proud of what has been achieved here.
There are reviews fom Oxford Daily Info ("energetic and thrilling deliveries of all the big chorus numbers"), The Stage ("a string of outstanding performances... compelling drama and song... intensely atmospheric, this staging of Oliver! reinterprets a classic with flair and intelligence"), WhatsOnStage ("works wonderfully in the intimate wood-panelled space of the Watermill... [the children] move and amuse and thrill and they have an obvious rapport with the adult cast" - 5 stars), My Theatre Mates ("if Lionel Bart is looking down upon the Watermill’s production, he’s surely smiling" - 4 stars) and A Younger Theatre ("glorious, high-spirited and full of gumption... a loveably entertaining production").