As we walked into the pristine Scotch College on a balmy spring night in Melbourne, into the immaculate grounds and the monolithic theatre, I had high hopes for the preview of this production. Running a little behind schedule for the 7.45pm curtain we took our seats just as the show began. With a beautiful open pit and gloriously realised settings and atmosphere the anticipation mounted. We settled in for a night of some of the best community theatre can offer.
OSMaD, with eight shows under their belt are hugely ambitious and well supported, and as such are providing their local community with a showcase of local talent both on stage and behind the scenes. This production was huge, from the extensive size of the cast on stage, backstage and supporting crew, a full orchestra, to the massive sets and costume plot. The success of the production is attributed to the collective efforts and passions of all involved.
Oliver!, with book, music and lyrics by Lionel Bart and orchestral arrangements by William David Brohn is based on the beloved Charles Dickens classic, Oliver Twist. A story set in Victorian London about an orphan boy as he finds his rightful place in the world. Underpinned with commentary on class division, social reform and the underlying contradictions and hypocrisy of society, Oliver is abandoned and alone, a victim of an abusive public system. After being sold by his Workhouse master for five pounds he escapes and finds refuge and more trouble within the criminal fringes of society.
The cast of children and adults alike filled the stage and performed with varying degrees of experience and success.
Playing the larger than life iconic role of Fagin is local favourite Angelo DeCata. His impressive performance was filled with physical and emotional nuance and a carefully measured control. I would have liked to see him let go of that restraint and allow Fagin to be as large as the show itself, but as usual he was a joy to watch and provided the backbone to the narrative and the cast. Long suffering street criminal and bar maid Nancy played by Stephanie Powell is a sympathetic and pivotal character. Powell’s vocal performance in this role was powerful and impeccable. She provided some much needed energy and vitality to the stage. The character is, however, a prostitute and should be bawdier than this portrayal. Kent Martin as Bill Sykes was appropriately menacing, but fairly one dimensional. His number however, My Name was one of the better staged and delivered parts of the production. The adult ensemble were hit and miss in their delivery of individual characters, but on a whole provided an experienced balance to the production.
Colin Morely provided much needed energy and pace to the First Act, as the undertaker Mr Sowerberry. His characterisation was camp and over the top, but every gesture hit the back row. He set the bar for the larger than life characterisation’s this show is all about. Other special mentions must go to the wonderful vocals and stage presence of the number Who will Buy?, Ariella Gordon as the Rose Seller, Kesh Aponso as the Knife Grinder, and Stepanie Jackowski as the Strawberry Seller. Other ensemble characters were hampered by static direction and a variety of costume choices that restricted their portrayal. It may be a result of being seated high up in this heavily raked theatre, but from my vantage point larger, darker characterisations in general would have allowed the power of the production to fill the theatre right to the back row.
The children’s ensemble was large and impressive in potential and confidence. Joshua Vas as Oliver Twist was suitably small and vulnerable on that huge stage, but showed spunk and vocal talent. Ben Jason-Easton as the Artful Dodger stole the show with his impressive characterisation, accent and stage presence. The remainder of the children were disciplined and powerfully competent in their individual characters and stage craft.
Direction provided by Barbara Hughes was conventional and family friendly, and with such a large cast must have been a challenging process of people management. Musical direction by John Ferguson was hit and miss with the vocals, but his orchestra was sublime with 21 players and incredibly beautiful strings and percussion. Choreography by Jenny Vincent-Green was appropriate but lacked variety. The best examples of choreography and direction was demonstrated in the previously mentioned My Name, Who Will Buy? and the opening of Act Two, Oom-Pah-Pah. Consider Yourself with the Artful Dodger, Oliver and the children’s ensemble was another highlight.
Sound was suitably impressive, delivered in expert hands by Glen Bardwell. Lighting design by Danny Issko was inspired and beautiful, moody and perfectly realised. Costume design by Cloe Thomas was impeccable, but I have never imagined a version of Victorian London, so clean without definition between the classes.
The star of the production however was the Set design by Richard Perdriau. With an amazing use of perspective and clever simple changes, the set never failed to impress on every level. Pure gothic splendour.
All together an impressive production, very family friendly, but lacked a darkness and macabre undertone that I personally enjoy and feel is invaluable in demonstrating the true strength of Dickens’ narrative.
Well done to OSMaD. Get down to Scotch College to see this show. One for all the family.