When watching the Birkenhead Operatic Society Trust’s (BOST Musicals) production of the Dickens classic Oliver, you would be forgiven for not knowing that this is an amateur production. The combination of professionally executed choreography and the raw musical talent of the cast makes this a performance that wouldn’t look out of place on the West End.
BOST Musicals pulled out all the stops for this production; a versatile set coupled with true-to-life costumes, give the cast everything that they need to tell the story of the boy who asked for more. The plot follows the orphan protagonist as he is sold to the local undertaker, only to escape and find himself with a mischievous group of child-pickpockets, lead by the enigmatic Fagin (Tony Prince).
The songs that feature in Oliver are designed to take you on an emotional journey through the highs and lows of the Victorian period: the vocal ability of the cast, paired with the live band lead by Tricia Gaskell, really bring the turbulent events of the story to life.
The show opened with an uplifting rendition of Food, Glorious Food, performed by a talented cast of boys. They brought an energy throughout the performance, entertaining the audience with what was clearly a well-polished piece of choreography. Oliver (Cole Boon) broke into a heartfelt solo performance of the song Where is Love; bringing the focus onto the harsh reality of orphan life – ushering in one of the largest rounds of applause of the evening.
Brian Comer easily steps into the role of The Artful Dodger, portraying the character’s mischievous cockney charm well. He then bursts into the performance of Consider Yourself, at which point the stage comes to life with an almost-full cast filling the space for a sensory explosion of song and dance.
BOST Musicals made the right casting decision with Jennifer Swanepoel as Nancy and Tony Prince as Fagin, both giving exceptional performances that captured the essence of their characters. Swanepoel maintains her accent and hits all the right notes as she performs As Long as He Needs Me, showing the acting ability of a seasoned musical performer.
Prince switches from his harsh, dry cockney accent to a deeply operatic tone with ease as he sings You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two, making it clear why he was nominated for a NODA North West award for the same role 4 years earlier.
This is a lengthy musical that features contrasting elements, and the pace of the performance varies dramatically from scene to scene. This makes for interesting viewing, as the tone of the play shifts from melancholic to joyous and back to melancholic fairly quickly, highlighting the whirlwind nature of Oliver’s journey. One point to consider is that Nancy’s final scene could’ve been more suspenseful, and was in fact dealt with in a rather perfunctory manner when compared with the high energy of previous scenes.
It is impressive to see an amateur theatre company put together such a professional performance. The hard work of the cast is complemented by the impressive set design, which featured a dramatic downfall of snow, helping to set the tone throughout the song Boy For Sale.
Another highlight is the choreography by Sarah Walker that kept a stage full of actors coordinated throughout the duration of the performance. It is safe to say that when you see the combination of talent and hard work that has gone into this production, it will leave you asking for more.
Oliver is running at The Royal Court Theatre until the 12th of November, you can buy tickets here.