Oliver by Upstage Centre Youth Theatre
Upstage Theatre, 41 Monkgate
Till Dec 12
Staging the well-loved musical Oliver in a small auditorium with minimal props, director Matt Harper sprinkles it with creativity and verve to create a most enjoyable production.
Of course it helps that there are so many catchy musical numbers, from Food Glorious Food to Consider Yourself.
But the young cast, ranging in age from 8 to 18, were enthusiastic, very well rehearsed and, boy, they can belt out a tune.
They were also incredibly well choreographed, which is a great achievement given the size of stage and number of performers on it.
To make matters more difficult, the audience surrounded the stage on three sides.
This drew us in and made us feel immersed in the action. It also required extra effort from the lead characters as they had to work an audience from three sides, rather than the more conventional stage front.
Energy and fun
There’s so much energy and fun that is is hard to pick stand-out performances. Naomi Jeffries as Nancy stuck the right tone and Jemima Rowley was a cheeky Artful Dodger.
Jack Hambleton played a quiet, unsure, Oliver, but this felt right and for such a young performer to take centre-stage takes real commitment.
Bill Sykes (Will Gibbon) was suitably menacing and Cari Hughes’ performance as Fagin had great character.
Performers not named here should not feel cast aside, there are simply too many to list. But they should all take credit for the way they worked together.
Dialogue delivered with perfect black comic timing garnered genuine laughter from the audience. But there were also bleak Victorian moments – often given even more impact by creative use of sound, from a tin wash basin to a crow-bar.
Mention must go to the three-piece ‘orchestra’ comprising strings (Chris Mather), percussion (Tom McAndrew) and piano (Joshua Goodman). Together they created a sound much richer than their numbers suggest.
I should add a disclaimer: my daughter is a member of the cast. But never one of the vocal, over-proud, parents at the school nativity, her presence didn’t guarantee a gushing review.
However, in case you hadn’t noticed by now, I loved this performance – and so did the rest of the audience.
First night nerves were well hidden and it was a production that brought a believable Victorian England to life using very little in the way of resources but very much in the way of energy and hard work.
Go if you can – I can guarantee you’ll enjoy it.