Musical-loving audiences are being invited to ‘consider yourself one of us,’ by Selkirk Opera’s production of Oliver!, showing this week at the Victoria Hall until Saturday.
“To paraphrase the famous opening of another Charles Dickens work, ‘It was the worst of shows; it was the best of shows’,” admits the president of Selkirk Amateur Operatic Society, Alistair Pattullo.
“The musical adaptation of Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist is such a well-loved show that care has to be taken not to trample on the audience’s fond memories of this favourite piece of musical theatre,” he explains.
“For many people this will have been their first experience of performing on stage, and the piece is so well-known that the audience comes into the theatre singing the songs. So we have set ourselves quite a task.”
Act I of the stage hit opens in the Victorian workhouse, as half-starved orphan boys hungrily await their dinner of gruel, singing Food Glorious Food. One boy alone, Oliver, has the courage to ask for more.
The workhouse’s heartless and greedy caretakers Mr Bumble (Raymond D’Agrosa) and Widow Corney (Joy Snape) respond by selling Oliver to the undertaker Mr Sowerberry (Ian Wilson) and his wife (Tracey Freedman), who cruelly make wee Oliver sleep next to the coffins.
At this lonely point Patrick Friel, our Oliver for the opening night (there are two Olivers playing alternate nights – Patrick and Joseph Milligan), sings the emotional solo Where Is Love?, which, judging by the applause, certainly tugged the audience’s heartstrings.
When the Sowerberry’s children Charlotte (Freya Hoppe) and Noah (Lee Tottman) enrage the undertaker’s new ‘mute’ by insulting his deceased mother, Oliver turns violent, and is locked in the coffin.
Thrown on the mercy of the streets, Oliver meets the Artful Dodger (Struan Howlieson/ Lewis Wilde), who deceives him into joining a gang of pickpockets (Consider Yourself), led by the comedy criminal Fagin (John Nichol), who teaches him the tricks of the trade (You’ve Got To Pick A Pocket or Two).
Oliver meets Nancy (Sandra Sandilands), girlfriend of the abusive and terrifying burglar Bill Sykes (Andrew Cockburn), and soon embarks on his first pickpocketing job to earn his keep. But when the Artful Dodger and another boy named Charley Bates rob wealthy old fellow Mr Brownlow (Peter Robertson), the crafty pair run off, leaving Oliver to be arrested for the crime.
Act II begins in the rowdy Three Cripples Pub, where Nancy sings old tavern song Oom Pah Pah, but the atmosphere breaks with fear as the menacing Bill Sykes appears. When Sykes hears Oliver has been rescued by the kindly Mr Brownlow, he thinks Oliver will spill the beans, and dispatches Nancy to bring him back.
Nestled in the home of Mr Brownlow and Mrs Bedwin (Karen D’Agrosa), and treated with warmth and kindness for the first time in his little life, Oliver pleas his good fortune will become permanent (Who Will Buy?).
Alas, the boy’s dreams are dashed again, when Sykes and Nancy capture him and send him back to Fagin’s Den. Adding to his troubles, the greedy Bumble and Widow Corney discover Oliver is heir to a rich family, and try to cash-in.
As the programme teases us for the denouement: “The scene is now set for a dramatic climax in which the fate of our characters will be decided, for good or ill.”
Selkirk Amateur Operatic Society’s 83rd musical opened on Tuesday to a packed house, and at the end of the show the applause and appreciation was a tribute to the strong cast, the producer Karen McKenna, musical director Nancy Muir and choreographer Katie Robinson.
The audience was surely impressed by the choreographed dancing, the lavish costumes, and the punchy, catchy songs, with stand-out performances from the main characters: John Nichol as the comic villain Fagin, Sandra Sandilands as torn Nancy, Andrew Cockburn’s scary Sykes, Struan Howlieson’s cheeky Dodger, and Patrick Friel’s tiny heart-tugging Oliver.
Weaving the characters’ tuneful and comic turns, a squad of dancing girls and costume-changing children sang their way round the stage in multiple roles from street urchins and workhouse paupers to Fagin’s Gang.
Finally the 11-strong orchestra supported the casts’ powerful voices, and kept the audience clapping in their chairs.
For all the actors, who for sheer love of musical rehearsed around their jobs to entertain the town, Selkirk Opera’s Oliver proved yet another great achievement.
Oliver! runs this week, tonight, Friday and Saturday night at 7.30pm, with a Saturday matinee performance at 2pm. Tickets on the door, or from the Scott’s Selkirk shop and www.borderevents.com