Oliver! Bath Theatre Royal

ONCE a year Bath Light Operatic Group, like Bath Operatic and Dramatic Society, throws caution to the wind and, despite not having the cushion of big commercial backing, takes over the 900-seat Theatre Royal, knowing that if they fail to attract enough customers, they will have to foot the bill themselves.

Even with the large regular group of supporters gathered via many years of fine production, there are few shows virtually guaranteed to be a commercial success. Fortunately, this year’s choice, Oliver!, which features two teams of 22 young players, plus a fair size chorus, 13 named characters and a dog, is one of that happy breed of shows which will attract large enough audiences to repay BLOG for all the long hours of rehearsals and energetic enthusiasm they put into their productions.

Charlie Alonso and Jack Parsonage vie for the privilege of playing the tit;e role, and while Charlie was charming the opening night audience, and sending some of them in search of a handkerchief with his rendition of Where is Love, Jack, either watching from the auditorium or the wings, was taking notes ready to make as big an impression when he takes over for alternate performances.

An even bigger scene-stealing role is that of the cheeky rogue, the Artful Dodger – from his first entrance ten-year-old William Millard made the role his own, never missing a beat. James Flintoff, waiting in the wings to take over, knows he will have to be on top form to match William’s efforts, as will Tom Gilmore who shares the role of Dodger’s mate Charley Bates with the ebullient Poppy Rhys Jones.

The Workhouse Children exuded the sort of energy that makes all but teenagers feel exhausted just watching! The vast majority on opening night, as will be the case when the other group takes over, were girls, with not enough effort being made to make them look like boys – in the period in which the story takes place it would have been all boys or all girls.
Against such an onslaught of young talent, the adult characters had to be on their toes and working flat out if they were not to be lost in the wake of the younger cast members. With 40 years’ experience of playing for this company on the Theatre Royal stage, Geoff White was certainly not going to let his Fagin get lost in the shuffle. Nor was more recent BLOG recruit Harriet Lowe, with the passionate As Long As He Needs Me at her disposal in the role of Nancy. With the help of Rachael Toone’s Bet, she also made the most of the opportunity to join an ensemble in full lusty voice for Oom-Pah-Pah.

Nick Feierabend as Bill Sikes not only had to contend with the challenge of the children, but also a beautiful Bull Terrier, in real-life rejoicing in the name of Doris. The all-purpose set helped to make changes quick and simple, but left the acting areas short on space and certainly militated against Bill in his most dramatic moments – the murder of Nancy and his own death.

Some early mic problems also did not help Lou Ruddell and Harry Burt establish, what was later a very good double act as Widow Corney and Mr Bumble.

Using a prologue and a stylised finale, as the defeated Fagin made his last exit, director Tristan Carter reminded the audience that there is a very dark underbelly to the story of Oliver Twist and the workings of the Victorian workhouse. But in the main the characterisations and presentation were more light hearted.

One last word of praise for the quartet of singers who led Who Will Buy, definitely one of the vocal highlights of the evening.


Photographs by Stewart McPherson

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