Oliver Twisted – St Jude’s Players

Oliver Twisted – St Jude’s Players

This production has a dual junior cast. In the interests of fairness, TASA reviewed both casts. The performance featuring Young Company Red was reviewed by Allison Thomas. The Young Company Blue was reviewed by Kym Clayton. 

This play is the most unusual play I’ve ever attended. It was based on the classic story of Oliver, the boy who wants more, who asked for more. 

One of the main differences is that it’s written by a local resident, and set in present day Adelaide. So there’s lots references to streets and places in Adelaide. The actors and actresses wore modern clothing, including fluoro jackets. 

This story highlights the differences between the very rich and the very poor and also about inequality and injustice of these unfortunate people who seem to be so vulnerable and powerless.

So this tale, although an old classic, is still relevant to many places in the world today, including Adelaide, where vulnerable people are misrepresented, mistreated and often become victims of the imbalance of society.

This play is also quite an emotional rollercoaster. There’s the empathy with Oliver who wants “more”. What does he want more of? Food, love, or attention? Fear about “getting caught” on all levels, grief of his mother dying, sadness when people are mistreated; the happiness and good fortune of being discovered and found by Mr. Brownlow; and the joy of the family reunion at the end.

When we walked into the theatre, all the actors and actresses were on stage or close to the stage, around the hall. There they were all reading books, and when the production started, they all moved around. And then exited. At the beginning of the play, they had already broken the “fourth wall”, which is very unusual. 

Big blocks were used to great effect in the minimalist stage setting, which were moved into different configurations to create different scenarios, with very little stage furniture and sets.

The mask, set  and puppet designers, Larry Waller, Don Oakley and Peter Duldig, created some very interesting masks. For example, the board of directors and the Judge made exaggerated scenarios to give the illusion of power and control.

Another unusual aspect of his production was that there were ten young people and ten adults working together. Added to that there were two talented youth casts. So that’s three different groups of people working together, which again makes it unique. I’ve never seen anything like it. 

I enjoyed the narration style which was not one but several different people at different times. Sometimes there were half a dozen people on the stage, each one would narrate a different part of the story or the action. That was a very interesting way of bringing the audience up to date. 

Every actor and actress projected their voice clearly and loudly. No one had microphones.

The best character I thought was Dawn Ross as Fagan. She had just the right amount of nastiness and greediness as well as the glamour. The other outstanding actor was Simon Lancione who we loved to loathe as the cunning, evil Bill Sikes. He was definitely the villain  – very well played Simon. 

There were two youth groups that played different nights. On Opening Night it was “Young Company Red”. I enjoyed Indigo Nettlefold’s innocent portrayal as Oliver. Jess Waller was the “Dodger” and the way that she moved around the stage in a sneaky Dodger-like way was befitting her character.

I did find it difficult though, when one actor played two roles and there was no discernible costume change. I was sometimes confused as to which character they were playing.

The sound effects were really amazing. There were lots of really good sound effects by Sound Designers and Recordists Ben Waller, Thomas Batten and Larry Waller. And the sound operator Thomas Batten did a great job to coordinate all the amazing different sounds that were required for this production.

One of the funniest scenes was the scene with the washing. So you can look forward to seeing the washing scene, which was very cleverly done. In the Parish Auction scene, where they were “selling off” the children, leaflets were also handed out to members of the audience with some interesting interactions and reactions! Another highlight was the way that the five warring voices in Bill Sikes head were expressed, with Bill Sikes in the middle, going crazy. 

It’s a play that will get you, like me, thinking about these inequalities and things that are not right or not fair in the world. Do we have a social conscience? Well done Larry Waller for your script and direction.

The show is on until the 20th of November. So get down to St. Jude’s at Brighton and see it now. You won’t regret it and you will have a unique experience.

Review of Young ‘Company Blue’ by Kym Clayton

The production of Oliver Twisted is played by a group of adult actors – with varying degrees of experience – and two groups of children  (‘Company Red’ and ‘Company Blue’) who alternate performances.

This reviewer saw the performance that involved Company Blue, and this review will concentrate mostly but not entirely on the young cast.  A review of the full production and of Company Red appears above.

Company Blue comprises Ezzy Jones (playing Lock Up Lottie & Charlotte), Indiana Hardacre (Oliver), Michayla Mallia (Dodger), Emily Chapman (Charley), Grace Flanagan (Tom Chitling), Ruby Bartlett (Toby Crackit & Clerk of Court 2), Tomas Robertson (Noah Claypole & Mr Monks), Amélie Falzon (Barney), and Connor Hojby (Doctor, Leonardo & Clerk of Court).

Without exception, the players of Company Blue were energetic and demonstrated a solid awareness of their characters, but some were more convincing and proficient than others.

The unforgiving acoustic of Grundy Hall at St Jude’s always presents challenges for actors, whether they be seasoned performers or just starting out in the rewarding business of bringing a play from the page to the stage.  Some of the young voices of Company Blue struggled to carry clearly to the back of the hall, but their articulation was in the main sound. Adult actors Mick Young (Mr Brownlow), Simon Lancione (Bill Sikes, Mr Gamfield & Boardman), who gave a standout performance as Sikes, and Kyla Booth (Mrs Corney & Mrs Bumble) provided strong mentorship on how it’s done, and their most successful ‘students’ were Ruby Bartlett and Connor Hoijby who were not thwarted by the hall.

A fundamental lesson for any actor – young or experienced – is that whenever you are on stage you are always being watched by the audience, even when you are nowhere near the action, so it pays to stay in character, always. Ruby Bartlett, Connor Hoijby and Tomas Robertson in particular always provided something for the audience to observe, even when the focus of attention was not on them. Robertson was especially effective in strongly differentiating between his various characters.

A number of scenes were well handled, including the pickpocketing scene that was set effectively with a seamless flow of action that was well choreographed by director Larry Waller. Nancy’s murder and Bill Sikes’ suicide scenes were chilling, with compelling and unsettling performances by Lancione.  Again, they were very well choreographed.  The laundry scene was a comedic high point with full marks for acting to Kyla Booth. Yes it was funny, but it was pregnant with meaning.

The Grundy Hall stage is wide but not very deep, and this presents set design difficulties that are usually well handled by the ever creative team at St Jude’s.  The design included many clever features, but the propensity to nearly always illuminate its full width rather than focusing on the location of the action was a distraction. Having said that, the lighting plot for Bill Sikes’ suicide was spine chillingly effective.

The set included a frieze above the proscenium arch of depictions of iconic buildings from around the world, which suggested that the dark social themes explored by the production can be found playing out anywhere in the world and in any period.  It’s a sad reflection on our inhumanity to our fellow man.

Well done Company Blue!

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