The comedian WC Fields’ warning to “never work with children or animals” is being wholeheartedly rebuffed by Tweed Theatre, as they perform the musical Oliver at Peebles’ Eastgate next week, with 40 local actors aged under 18 and a dog playing Bullseye.
“The talent on display is amazing,” the director Tim Wilcock told TheSouthern. “Mr Bumble and Mrs Corney (Ben Durkin and Lauren Hogg) have a great rapport and inject real comedy into their roles. The Sowerberrys (Fergus Lawrie and Kay McAllister) are also full of comedic delight. Oliver’s solo performances by Jack Dickson have brought a tear to the eyes of many of the crew involved in the show, while the Artful Dodger (Dominic Davies) is a proper East End gem.
“Fagin (Will Rowse) is as slimy and avaricious as can be, and provides a counterpoint to Nancy (Caitlin Morris) who demonstrates raw emotion and has the ability to really belt out a tune as well as conveying the love she has for Bill Sykes (Callum Forman) who is truly terrifying at times. Bullseye (played by Toby Thomas) is perhaps not as ugly or vicious as the one in the film but has the benefit of being good with children.”
He added: “All the principal roles are supported by a sterling chorus who are working hard to not only act, but to sing and dance as well, and beautifully move from workhouse brats to Fagin’s boys and London street traders.
“With its well-known, very singable tunes, Oliver is great entertainment. Oliver’s innocence, kindness and air of refinement pierce the gloom like a beacon in a blackout, giving us something to cling to – the hope that, however bad our circumstances, we can remain true to ourselves and that luck will one day favour us, as it clearly did Oliver.”
The director said the 40-year-old musical stays true to Dickens’s 1838 novel, exploring themes of social deprivation, exploitation and misanthropy.
“Dickens’ sense of satire shines through continually,” he said, adding: “Witness the overly-plump Bumbles dishing out nutritiously valueless gruel to half-starved waifs at the orphanage, and his use of onomatopoeic names for characters.
“His astute (if at times unsubtle) symbolism also hits the mark, using the Bumbles (again) and the Sowerberrys to convey his concerns that many marriages were deeply troubled and unhappy. And throughout, there is a thinly disguised attack on poverty and its causes – in this case it’s the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 which turned workhouses into institutions that only the most desperate would ever enter.”
Mr Wilcock added: “Directing the cast is the easy bit, but there’s an army of willing souls that have organised props, prompts, set, costumes and about a million other things, all largely unseen but pivotal to success.
“The whole production has a community feel to it, as it not only involves the theatre and a local drama group but has drawn in sponsorship from several local businesses and organisations (Crossburn Caravans, WJ Burnside, the Masonic Lodge and William Purves Funeral Directors).”
The show runs from December 6-8 at 6.30pm, with a matinee on the Saturday at 2.30pm. Tickets cost £10 from the Eastgate Theatre: www.eastgatearts.com or 01721 725777.