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Holroyd Musical and Dramatic Society: Oliver! - Review by Jessica Green

Charles Dickens said, “A loving heart is the truest wisdom.” Oliver! by Holroyd Musical and Dramatic Society demonstrated a whole lot of heart. Oliver! tells the story of a young orphan boy of the same name’s trials and tribulations as he journeys to London to seek his fortune. On the way, he meets a wide variety of characters including a family of undertakers, criminals of varying ages and degrees, a gentleman and a down-on-her-luck woman who turns out to be his saving grace.

Typically a piece that lends itself to the dramatic, director Amy Biankin and her assistant Lauren Carter attempted to lighten the source material by focusing on some of the more comedic elements of the show. This was most evident in the scenes with Mr Bumble and Widow Corney, whose performers I will discuss later, where the actors' direction and individual choices had the audience in raucous laughter.

First-time musical director but experienced Natalie Davis-Pratt, work should be commended. Having vocal directed this show myself, the solo and ensemble parts are unexpectedly difficult. There was some great sound coming out of that cast, especially in the famous “Consider Yourself”, the quartet “Who Will Buy” and the rowdy opening of Act 2 “Oom Pah Pah”. The Choreography by Caitlin Denis, was often subtle but, when allowed to shine, was effective. My favourite moments were the dance break in “Consider Yourself” and the bowl-ography in the opening number, “Food Glorious Food”.

The set was constructed by John Brown and Duncan Dodds and featured an opulent brick facade, a crumbling brick wall, a series of handkerchiefs on a fly system and a digital backdrop; with images designed by Dean McGrath, alongside a series of smaller pieces were effective and suited the era of the showl. The lighting states in this show designed and operated by Mathew Lutz, was quite intricate and well thought add and truly added to the experience. Red Globe Productions & Simon Mitchell operated and designed the sound and costumes managed by Jenna van Bentum both of which helped to immerse us and the cast into the world of the show quickly and effectively.

On opening night, featured performers from the “Handkerchiefs” cast. Oliver, this evening was played by Luke Pratt, whose angelic face and vocals shone bright in the dark setting of 1800 Victorian London. His vagabond counterpart, The Artful Dodger, played by Aaron Leopardi, acquitted himself well into the role. Leopardi was consistently in character, with my eyes often being drawn to what he was doing when he was onstage. The other children of Fagin’s gang in this cast were just as dynamic and invested in the narrative. A special shout-out to Viktoria Cini who played the youngest thief, Nipper who had the audience in the palm of her hand with her engagement in the story and overall cuteness.

Now onto the adults. Taking on these iconic roles is an interesting task. You want to make them your own but also respect the performances of others and the source material itself. All of the actors onstage should be commended for their sound efforts in taking on this task. As mentioned above, the first two adults we meet are Mr Bumble, played by Simon Peppercorn and Widow Corney played by Samantha Wills. As a pair, these two perfectly emulated the hypocrisy in society that Dickins himself loathed. Pious on the outside but greedy and cruel behind closed doors. Both Peppercorn and Wills were hilarious, captivating and vocally strong, especially Wills’ soaring soprano in “I Shall Scream.” They were a joy to watch onstage and are a big reason why you should see this show.

Another highlight of the show was Dean McGrath's performance as the menacing Bill Sykes. Unlikeable, and the epitome of how society can fail young males, McGrath was an imposing but captivating figure, highlighted in his solo “My Name”. What is a Bill without his Nancy? Also duel cast, I saw Felicity Amos take on this iconic role. Amos’ voice soared in all of her songs oozing the warmth and love this character is best known for, making the end of the show sting all the more. An acting challenge certainly, Amos acquitted herself nicely and her scenes with young Pratt were also some of the joyous moments in the show.

Clive Hobson, took on the morally grey criminal “mastermind”, Fagin. Hobson had a great rapport with all of his young co-stars, an absolute necessity for this role, appearing as a kindly grandfather contracted to his selfishness in the scenes he shared with his adult co-stars and on his own. This conflict was most evident in Hobson’s performance of “Reviewing the Situation", in which Hobson’s voice and physicality were most engaging, demonstrating the duality of this man clearly and concisely.

They were supported by Andrew Down, Tracy Payne and Annabelle Payne as Mr, Mrs and Charlotte Sowerberry respectively. Murray Fayne as Mr Brownlow, Sarah Lavorato as Mrs Bedwin, Rachel Baker as Bet, Joshua Van Bentum as Noah Claypole, Doug Bryant as Dr Grimwig, Louise Corbin as Old Sally and an ensemble that brought this world to life. Another shout out to ensemble member Stacey Gay who made some fantastic choices with the variety of roles she played and was always a delight to watch when onstage.

Opening night is never flawless, with technical issues often plaguing it as the show is still finding its rhythm. This opening night was no different with some lighting state issues and microphones failing. Whispers backstage could often be heard which was unfortunate but not uncommon, especially in such a small space. Despite this, the cast and team should still be commended for their hard work and I am sure most of these issues will be ironed out during the run. 

Having a three-week run is a blessing in this day and age so if you want to see a theatre classic with a whole lot of heart, laughs and cast committed to delivering that, make your way down to the Redgum Centre in Wentworthvile and catch Holroyd Musical and Dramatic Society’s Oliver! running for the next two weekends and “consider yourself one of the family.”

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