Press Report


Tiverton Gazette


December 11th 2007

It was pouring with rain outside,  but inside, it was pure sunshine!

   OLIVER! the musical by Lionel Bart in Tiverton's New Hall last week was the reason for so much warmth.  Irene Holland's Willow Tree Theatre Company directed by Jon Sowden put on yet another great show.  With a 12 piece orchestra led by Hilary Wickham, the cast gave their all in a performance of poignancy, drama and gusto.
  This musical adaptation of Charles Dicken's story of Victorian poverty is full of zonking great tunes... Food, Glorious Food, Consider Yourself, Oom-pah-pah, not to mention Fagin's Pick a Pocket or Two and Nancy's heart rending As Long As He Needs Me.
  The atmospheric set was co-designed by Jon Sowden and Steve Gage, and built by Theresa Priscott and Steve Gage, who also played Bill Sykes in a brilliantly evil performance causing all to tremble in his presence.
  The opening lighting state through a brick archway and onto wooden scaffolding made evocative and eery shadows; a splendid introduction to the work-house where Oliver Twist finds himself hungry and daring to ask for more food.  Dominic Jones was enchanting and tackled the part like a professional. He is new to the company and a great asset.
  Jan Pannell as sour old Widow Corney and Rick Barfoot as the larger than life character Mr Bumble were very funny in their duet I Shall Scream and set the tone for an evening in which the singing was of a high calibre.
  Keith Thomas created a charming and eccentric Fagin enhanced by finger twirling and beard tugging. I could see why the jaunty Artful Dodger, wickedly portrayed by Connor van Bussel with just the right amount of cheek, would want to remain loyal to him.

  The role of Nancy, who loves Bill Sykes, was played by Katy Baker. She has a powerful singing voice and a huge acting talent; she delivered her big show stopping number with all the drama and pathos required.
  The news that Oliver is really the grandson of wealthy Mr Brownlow, elegantly played by Paul Williams, is prompted by a portrait in a locket given up by a dying woman called Old Sally. This was a cameo performance in a million by Pam Rogers.  I am still laughing.
  I enjoyed Mr and Mrs Sowerberry as well, played in true music hall style by Andrew Lockyer and Julie Firbanks.
  I must also pay tribute to the chorus, the apprentices and the workhouse children who were an essential and vibrant ingredient in the evening's entertainment.  The song Who Will Buy was particularly touching with Victoria Davies, Julie Cozens and Jo Wilson-Hunt.
  As ever, I am amazed at the amount of work and attention to detail that represents a Willow Tree production.  It's always a lesson in what can be achieved with passion and determination.  This was a great opportunity for those who took part and a wonderful Christmas show for Tiverton.

Article by Amanda Knott


Tiverton Gazette


December 18th 2007

Memorable Oliver! triumph of casting and set design

   CHRISTMAS is the traditional time to view the popular musical Oliver! Based on Charles Dickens' novel Oliver Twist, it is set in Victorian London, when underprivileged children roamed the streets and had to fend for themselves.  What form that took varied greatly and, in orphan Oliver's case, he found himself training to be a pickpocket.
   This is a tale which demonstrates that, sometimes, the most unlikely people have a good heart, although the lines are often a little blurred. The character Fagin, for example, (very convincingly played by Keith Thomas) takes homeless youngsters under his wing and trains them to steal.  In return he supports them and quite obviously cares for them in his own way.  They are fed and given a roof of sorts over their heads.
   Young Oliver Twist - brilliantly played by 10-year-old Dominic Jones - is just such a youngster when he bumps into star thief and pickpocket the Artful Dodger, a part which was played with great enthusiasm by Connor Van Bussel.  At 12, Connor is rather younger than the usual 'Dodger', but one quickly forgot this fact as he made the part his own.
   Fagin's band of urchins was a cheerful group and, in the scene where they were demonstrating to young Oliver how they made a living, they brought humour to what was really quite a dark story of hardship.
   The set which was designed by Jon Sowden1, was a triumph.  Built out of recycled materials by Jon2 and company manager Steve Gage - who also convincingly took the part of the wicked Bill Sykes - it demonstrated its enormous versatility by, at various times, incorporating a multi-sided, movable centrepiece.

  This, with the aid of brilliant lighting, convincingly transported the audience between the workhouse dining hall, where Oliver's story begins, the workhouse parlour, with its comfy chairs and sleeping cat, to the undertakers', where Oliver is put to work by Mr. Bumble.  In-between times, the set itself depicted the streets of London, with its myriad of nooks and crannies.  The device came into play again as the thieves' kitchen, with its glowing fire and streamers of stolen kerchiefs hanging up to dry.
   Nancy, played by Katy Baker, is another character whose heart is in the right place, although she pays for her kindness to Oliver with her life, as Bill Sykes murders her as she is taking the boy back to his newly discovered grandfather.  Sykes commits suicide by hanging and it was a shock to see his swinging body at the end.
   We have come to expect great things from the Willow Tree Theatre Company and their highly professional shows, and yet again their audiences have not been disappointed.
   The familiar songs, the sinister characterisations and the humour were all there, with every member of the cast and all those backstage pulling together to make this production of Oliver! yet another memorable arrow to add to Willow Tree's quiver of successful shows.

Article by Penny Smale


1 Co-designed by Jon Sowden and Steve Gage.
2 Set built by Theresa Priscott and Steve Gage.


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