Oliver! - AIMS Adjudicator's Critique 2006

Monday 3rd April 2006 at 11:00 AM

The following is the public section of the show critique for our production of Oliver!, by AIMS Adjudicator, Peter O'Driscoll:

A very entertaining Oliver which more than transcended the conditions of an almost unbelievable venue. A very full house consisted of people sitting on many different levels in a variety of corralled spaces, nearly always (!) facing in the general direction of the stage.

The Nite Club is the most unlikely place to put on a show of any kind. To stage Oliver and to give us a thoroughly entertaining evening was amazing. Most of the stage had to be built and all of the wings and 'proscenium'. The set was in many ways the least of the problem. The auditorium had to be built to level out lower (depressed!) areas normally used for dancing. Leonard Anderson and Joe Betts presented us with a very workable design: large staircases on either side of the stage and textured laths of wood covering grey walls. Up stage was a concertinaed yellow screen which when pulled aside revealed a large fireplace and interesting chimney piece for Fagin's den. All furniture (and it was very good!) and most actors had to come on from the rather low entrances under the stairs left and right.

Performances were very good and in many ways different from the expected. Nancy began as a very street wise lady, with an abrupt, abrasive quality. (I'm reminded of Jeremy Iron's comment that he is not afraid to play a character people might not like.) As time went on, she became much more endearing as she moved towards the understanding that allowed her to begin to take Oliver's part against Bill Sykes. It was a well judged and very well sung performance from Olivia McGarry. Playing Fagin as quite a young man (leaving us many years before he will be 'seventy'), Daniel Doherty's performance was very acceptable and allowed us to be part of his thoughts and musings on the life ahead. His excellent diction, lightness of movement and thoughtful performance was very convincing. Mr. Bumble was played with authority by David Cooke. It didn't take long for Widow Corney (Caroline Madigan) to take the wind out of his sails. Her top notes in 'I shall scream' were great. His voice was also good but the pitch of 'Boy for sale' almost defeated him.

Given the difficulties of the setting, some interesting directorial choices were made. Leonard Anderson chose to cut the final scene in Act I, where Oliver is caught for stealing Mr. Brownlow's wallet. The act ended with 'Cheerio but be back soon'. The gang moved and sang with excellent precision but I missed the climactic moment. Storywise, of course, what happens in the final scene is told by Dodger to Fagin in 'The Three Cripples', so the omission can be justified. Oliver had no bed for his scene with Mrs. Bedwin and the doctor. He had to walk on with her to be examined. This worked very well. The young Derek Tully had a great concentration and played off the adults in his life very coolly indeed. We had a very gentle performance from Catherine O'Rourke as Mrs. Bedwin. Old Sally (June Egan), also without a bed, died on the floor, giving us a great moment when Corney and Bumble indicated their lack of concern for her by stepping over her dead body.

Props and Costume were very good. I would have had Mr. Brownlow (Gerry Miley) wear a hat outdoors and would have given gloves to the beautifully besuited gentlemen. Lighting was remarkably good in the circumstances of the venue. The upstage yellow screen tended to collect the light sent straight in at it and gave more shadows than would have occurred if there had been the opportunity for side lighting. It is quite ironic that the Club itself sported tens of thousands of 'pounds' worth of lighting equipment, which, alas, could not be touched for the show!

Singing, that of the children and of the adult chorus, was very musical. Martina Hawthorne, chorus mistress, prepared the music very well. There was great energy and musicianship in the Public House. The quartet of street singers blended wonderfully; Oliver here also sang with great confidence. Dodger (Craig Burke) was very cheeky, sang well and managed Oliver with assurance. Morgan Cooke's conducting maintained a very good pace with a very musical band. Sykes made an excellent entrance down stage from the auditorium and it was most effective that we did not immediately see his face. Pat Walshe played and sang strongly.

Overall, an interesting and very entertaining show. And the front of house team excelled themselves in their care of the audience.

Peter O'Driscoll
March 2006