Directed by RaeAnna Hammerbacker
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Author: Bella Coleman
There was a buzz of anticipation at The Priory Centre for this well-known and popular musical. The Front of House team worked well, ably managed by Jenny Teachey.
The open set looked interesting with a shadowy London scene and scaffolding creating a ‘bridge’ across the Thames. There were set areas for Fagin’s den and Mr Brownlow’s library.
The costumes were an interesting mix of traditional Victorian and Steam Punk and, combined with some unusual face art, created a quirky and colourful depiction of Dickensian folk.
The opening workhouse scene saw the children walking through the audience to Food Glorious Food; this was a nice touch although there were a couple of timing issues. The band was placed on stage but tucked under the raised set and I imagine it would have been difficult to hear the voices very clearly. Liam Hicks as Oliver looked suitably angelic and managed his songs with ease. Well done Liam. Matt Shaw dealt very well with the larger-than-life Mr Bumble. On paper Matt is too young, too handsome and too slim to make a credible Bumble but, with a huge amount of effort, he got away with it. Good work Matt. Peta Riley as Widow Corney was exceptionally good and gave a gutsy performance. I hope Peta has more opportunities to develop her skills in future productions.
I would be surprised if there was anyone in the audience who didn’t know the story and songs of Oliver. The characters are iconic but none more so than the infamous Fagin played by George Kelly. In this production Fagin’s appearance is very different; no black garb, wide flat hat or prosthetic hook nose for VAMPS’ Fagin…to fit in with the avant-garde theme Fagin was a colourful character, with a Joseph-like coat covered in handkerchiefs, tricorn style hat and braided hair. George Kelly is a bold actor and has enough strength to bring out the character regardless of the challenges and this he did. George gave 100% and whilst Fagin was maybe not as ‘Jewish’ as he should be, he was very ‘present’ as only George Kelly could make him.
There was a good performance from Josh Haynes as The Artful Dodger…his was an exuberant Dodger, extremely likeable and very well delivered. I hope to see Josh in other productions as he is a young person with masses of potential. Emma Matthews gave Nancy a street-wise feistiness. Emma has a strong voice and was more than capable of bringing the best out in the songs. Well done Emma. Brett Nunn tried to create a really menacing Bill Sykes but his opening song in The Three Cripples was somewhat over-shadowed by the vast chorus of women on stage. Brett got lost in a melange of colourful costumes, which was a shame as I know Brett is more than able to give plenty of vigour to this role.
There were good solid performances from Paul Riddy as Mr Brownlow and Ian Worsfold as Mr Sowerberry the undertaker. The entire cast of Oliver gave tremendous energy to their roles for which they should all be congratulated.
The Thursday evening audience was enthusiastic in their enjoyment of Oliver but it has to be said that there were a few issues. On the technical side the lighting was a bit patchy with the sides of the stage being in shadow and I felt the solo performances would have benefitted from a follow spot. The general lighting however, was good and created the right mood appropriate for the scene. The sound was generally good and I could hear everyone clearly. The fast pace of some songs made the lyrics difficult to keep up with but that did not affect the overall enjoyment of the music although it may have been more challenging if one wasn’t already familiar with the lyrics.
The choreography created by Josh Sinclair was kept to a minimum, which was a good thing with so many people on stage. Dances were cleverly simplistic and took in to consideration that not everyone has the same ability.
VAMPS are a society that I have followed for many years and I know that they have a talented and enthusiastic membership. I urge them, with the best of intentions, to focus more on the group’s acting skills. The devil is in the detail and some fine-tuning was needed, perhaps an encore would have given Oliver a better finish for example. The actors deserve the very best of opportunities to shine on stage and this will only be achieved by an objective look, from the director down, at where improvements could have been made.
RaeAnna Hammerbacker is a much respected director for VAMPS and it was clear that she had worked tremendously hard to bring Oliver to the stage. I congratulate you RaeAnna and wish you luck in helping to move VAMPS forward to bigger and better productions.
All aspects of staging a musical requires much hard work from everyone involved; the cast, musicians, production team and crew and I commend VAMPS for their unfailing enthusiasm and commitment.