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June 4 2017, News Reviews The David Beach Competition

Oliver!

WODS Musical Theatre Company

The Playhouse

Weston-super-Mare

Friday2nd June 2017

Lionel Bart’s Oliver! is an exceptional piece of work: from beautifully crafted, lyrical song to beautifully crafted, lyrical song and from classic Musical Theatre set-piece to Musical Theatre  set piece. It presents exiting, colourful Dickensian characters in splendid style and I like it! Having witnessed countless productions of Oliver! including a few falling into the, shall we say ‘less than fabulous’ category I have never left the theatre without a jaunty song and a stupid grin on my lips. The story is simple but engaging and the show is shot-through with the potential for musical theatre spectacle. So I was very pleased to be visiting the splendid Playhouse at the end of a busy week to see if WODS could give their audience an escape from the realities of tragedies, elections and Trumpery.

Director Aaron Pengelly gave us just what we wanted. This was a good-looking show filled with great singing, dancing and some lovely stage pictures. Carrie Buck and Bev Priest (who also gave us a very warm welcome to the theatre) had picked up the choreography gauntlet and must have worked the team very hard. Dance was full of energy and featured some very impressive and athletic lifts, the chorus really throwing themselves into the fray.

The orchestra, under well-known and widely respected Musical Director Matt Tilke provided a very pleasing, balanced sound and supported the singing sympathetically and I particularly enjoyed Jon Hopes’ trombone work. Singing was universally good from principals and chorus alike. The young work-house inmates gave us plenty of attack and energy from the ‘get-go’ with their rousing Food Glorious Food and their contribution remained at the same high standard whenever they popped up during the show.

Technically the show was strong: Very attractive settings, realising everything from Workhouse to Funeral Directors’ to London Bridge; Lighting was suitably moody when needed and sound was impressively clear. I liked the scene transitions being made in plain sight, often utilising cast members to move props and furniture, which nicely maintains the ‘theatrical spell’ without breaking the flow of the show. I was however a little disappointed that the cast were sometimes joined by black-clad stage crew which spoiled the effect rather: perhaps a simple waist coat and flat cap might have disguised them?

Performances were strong from the principals: Freya Grafton’s Oliver was a charming and very self-assured characterisation- strong, word-perfect, clear and backed-up with some very good singing; Jack Walker’s Artful Dodger was packed with energy and stand-out singing; Laura Grace James gave us a beautifully sung Nancy (I would perhaps have liked to see a few more smiles earlier in the performance to balance the passionately played tragedy later on but this may have been a directorial decision?), her As Long as He Needs Me was very moving; Blair Ruddick’s Fagin was delivered with confidence and though a little different from the Fagin of my mind’s eye, he certainly got the job done and Will Taylor’s Bill Sykes was suitably wicked and often frightening. This was a strong line-up who were supported by a strong supporting cast – too many to list here but there were clear standouts: Kirsty Slater as Bet, showing off a lovely, powerful singing voice; Dave Bailey as Mr Brownlow, bringing an experienced, calm presence and of course the excellent (and brilliantly made-up) Mr Chops as Bullseye to name a few.

I would be lying if I were to say that everything was perfect with the show. There was for me at least, the feel of a director still learning his craft: pace was often a little strange and some ‘business’ was a little clumsy: The Sowerberry’s scene was both stilted and rushed, the death of the old lady in the workhouse was rather insensitively judged (if very funny!) and the shooting on London Bridge was a little ‘muddy’. This having been said, the show was highly entertaining and looked great.

There is a feel from WODS that they are, again on an upward trajectory and this was another great step on the way. I sat in a full house audience of punters (apart from one gentleman sitting two seats away from me who actually snored throughout, waking only for the end of the finale to stand and applaud!) who were fully engaged and clearly loved the show.It was also very pleasing to see so many folks from other local societies coming to watch. I had a great time and eagerly await Made In Dagenham as WODS move from strength to strength.

Thanks for inviting me

Ian