Reviewing the situation – Why Oliver is a hit in Whitehaven

By Ken Powell

The Oliver! cast (Photo courtesy of WADAOS)

The members of the Whitehaven and District Amateur Operatic Society (WADAOS) have put on a lavish production of Lionel Bart’s classic musical ‘Oliver!’ and it was well worth the effort clearly spent getting it ready.

Even before a single note was sung or dialogue uttered the audience was amazed by a superb set design and the high standard was maintained throughout numerous scene changes. You could almost believe you were in a Victorian workhouse or later in a London gentleman’s study.

The director, Ann Simpson, must have felt she was on to a winner (thespians are a superstitious lot!) when they cast a real-life Oliver – Oliver Jarvis – who only tagged along with his sister to the auditions and snagged the lead role for his first ever performance on the big stage. Young Oliver acquitted himself well and was convincing in the demanding role.

As good as the set was the dancing, superbly choreographed by Tracy McOuat who also sang beautifully as the strawberry seller in Act 2. There were no weak performers on the stage and it was clear that a great deal of work had gone into the routines which were all well-executed.

It’s impossible to mention everyone and there were so many excellent performers (let alone sound, lighting and musical direction – all spot on) but two and a half must be named.

You can’t have Oliver without Fagin and Stuart Evans (who has impressed me before) was really very good indeed in the role. The character needs humour, which Mr Evans has bags of, and you could tell he was comfortably at home on the stage, even ad-libbing where necessary.

Becky Hardman, playing Nancy, was, in my opinion, as good as you can possibly get for the role. Not only was her voice pitch perfect but she allowed the character to shine. Her confidence on the stage was vitalising and she took the cast with her in classic songs like ‘Oom Pah Pah’. Totally convincing.

And the half? Well, no matter how talented a Nancy or Fagin you have, you can’t outshine a cute little girl with spectacles. You could hear hearts dropping on the floor of the auditorium as Lily McOuat, appropriately as a child thief, stole them from the audience. Like all the children, she knew her moves well and was a real joy to watch.

In summary then: go see this WADAOS production if you can and see for yourself why it’s a hit with the crowds. It’s a joy to watch, listen to, laugh at and sing along with. But don’t be surprised if, on leaving, you find someone’s nicked your heart along the way.

Tickets for Oliver! are available from the Whitehaven Civic Hall. The show runs until Saturday 18th March