This was my first viewing of an EUSOG production, and now, I’m making sure it’s not my last. Edinburgh University Savoy Opera Group has produced many pieces over the years. In the case of ‘Oliver!’ the intricate detailing and level of professionalism they offer is, put simply, impressive.
The story of the orphan Oliver Twist is well known. Originally the title character of a Charles Dickens novel, the story has had multiple adaptations. Most notably the 1968 award-winning film, adapted from the hit Broadway musical, ‘Oliver!’ This company has rolled up its sleeves to bring back such iconic songs as ‘Food, Glorious Food’, ‘Consider Yourself’ and ‘Where is Love’. Not only with the angelic voices of its cast but with a full, live orchestra complete with double bass and bassoon. Not forgetting a rather talented conductor, Samuel Hogarth, who had firm grasp of his musicians and expertly wove melodies in harmony with the actors.
Any memories of those painfully awkward school plays are evaporated immediately as dry ice covers the stage under a cold blue light. The imposing set has multiple levels and adaptable spaces managing to cater for the complex storyline. Through the smoky atmosphere emerges the extensive cast flooding the stage. At first thought, the ensemble size seems over-the-top. But it is these constantly shifting crowd sequences that truly encapsulated the chaos of Victorian London. The stage is full to the brim of tiny moments, gestures and interactions all of which are admirably choreographed by the ambitious Kathryn Young. The scenes set in Fagin’s den are particularly brilliant. The young pick-pockets wreak havoc around the space, erupting with sheer joy and aggressive larking. It is this chaotic energy that gives ‘Oliver!’ its charm and EUSOG has perfectly encapsulated it.
Cast members come from varying age groups and acting backgrounds, but this isn’t obvious as a viewer. The collective as a whole kept the bar high throughout. A few performances did stand out, however. Grace Dickson’s powerful voice satisfied the high expectations for the beloved Nancy . The Artful Dodger and his friend Charlie, played by Ashleigh More and Rebecca Waites both had great stage presence, always managing to catch my eye with a wicked smile. Not forgetting Kathryn Salmond who gave an exceptionally emotive performance as Fagin.
There were some distractions; failing mics, ill-timed fighting maneuvers but over-all this was a great success. The sheer volume of work put into this does not go unnoticed and is a triumph, surpassing expectations.
For those looking for a fresh take or a different perspective on the established canon, perhaps this wouldn’t be the show for you. But if you want to sit back and relive a childhood classic, brimming with nostalgia and full of fresh young faces capable of the challenge, then this is the evening for you.