IN an age of austerity measures and food banks, South Hill Park’s production of Oliver! began in
IN an age of austerity measures and food banks, South Hill Park’s production of Oliver! began in a contemporary setting before plunging us into Charles Dickens’s Victorian era, with its corruptible mercenaries, workhouses and penury.
However, the bleak background of the story was offset nicely by wonderful singing and dancing from the children in the junior chorus, who had been part of South Hill Park’s Easter drama workshop, and inspiring performances throughout.
My son Milo knew the song Food, Glorious Food and he and his brother Nate were swept up into the melodies and indeed the melodrama, right from the crucial moment when Oliver dares to ask for “More.”
Marcus Morley shone as Oliver and had a beautiful singing voice, conveying his innocence and bewilderment at the erratic behaviour of his elders and supposed betters.
We had a fantastically uncomfortable flirtation between Widow Corney and Mr Bumble, who reminded me of Harry Enfield with his facial expressions, before meeting the undertakers Mr and Mrs Sowerberry, where briefly poor Oliver was trapped in a coffin after fighting to defend his mother’s name.
There were some very effective but simple special effects throughout, with children lifting a “window” and exposing Oliver to the cold night air. Then when Oliver made his escape from this funereal world, we saw a clever coach-and-horses illusion and a slow-motion fly through the air.
Out of the frying pan and into the fire, Oliver gets tangled up with the Artful Dodger and the elderly Fagin, where we were treated to Consider Yourself and You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two.
While we know Fagin is one of the bad guys, he also garners a wee bit of our sympathy, especially compared to his ’orrible associate Bill Sikes (along with his sidekick dog Bullseye, ably played by Cyrus), who treats his caring girlfriend Nancy with spite and contempt. Nancy tries to protect Oliver, realising this isn’t the life for him, but this becomes her undoing.
As it slowly dawns on Oliver that things aren’t above board, he is wrongly accused of stealing the wallet of kindly Mr Brownlow, who is to become his guardian, taking him under his wing.
With a foot-stomping rendition of Oom-Pah-Pah, the audience were clapping and singing along. This was a marvellous, enjoyable romp through a Dickensian underworld.