Oliver | Theatre Review
Grand Opera House • Summer Youth Theatre • Thursday 27 July ’17
By Conor O’Neill • Photos:Aaron McCracken
Consider yourself well in, consider yourself one of the family. And what a great family night out this piece of theatre this is. Now in its seventh year, the GOH’s Summer Youth Project’s depiction of Lionel Bart’s Broadway and West End hit of Dickens’ well told tale of a young boy orphaned and on the streets of London. It is as relevant today as was in 1839 when the book was first serialised in Bentley’s Miscellany way back when chimney sweeps and youthful vagabonds were the order of the day. We’ve still got the vagabonds, thankfully chimney sweeps are out of time.
The Grand Opera House is packed to the proverbial gills as first timers behind me ask their parents, “Is that a real dress?”, “Is that a bad man?” and more disturbingly, “This is boring!” In this age of kids rarely looking up from their tablets and i-phones, it’s amazing to see youths from the age of 10 to 18 engage 1000 people with what can only be described as sheer joy. 223 kids singing and dancing their little heads off with such precision must make choreographer Rebecca Leonard’s heart thump with pride. And never a foot put wrong.
Tonight’s ‘Oliver’ is Luke Fields, just 10-years-old himself, strut the stage like a RADA trained pro in the bloom of his career. There are two Olivers in the run; four shows over two days would be too much for someone just out of short trousers. The other ‘Oliver’ being Andrew Montgomery with be taking Friday night and Saturday evening show, hopefully up there with Fields. Sam Gibson plays the crowd favourite as the Artful Dodger; master thief and somewhat mentor to the slightly gullible focus of the show that is the young Twist.
Orphaned, apparently, the young ‘professional mourner’ escapes the clutches of the workhouse and is soon dragged into the orbit of Tommy Bell’s Fagin, a man who believes in cash without taxes, and more important cash without rules. Bell has apparently been with the Youth Group since the beginning. From our vantage point, it’s hard to see how a 16-year-old Bangor boy can pull off the role of a decrepit old git with yellow tombstone teeth, a mop of hair Robert Plant would be proud of – nods to the costume and make-up crew – with such aplomb, yet he does it.
Throw in the disarming and alarming Bill Sykes played by Conor Healy (18) and this piece of theatre will take you back to your childhood when watching the villain with no heart filled your young man with fear. Emiko Seawright’s Nancy, to my mind steals the show; not only can the girl act, but boys and girls, women and men, can she sing.
Of course all the big numbers are here: Food Glorious Food; Consider Yourself; You’ve Got to Pick A Pocket Or two and As Long As He Needs Me – Seawright’s signature tune and as the crowd rises to their feet, a medley of the best.
For a group all under the age of 18, I’ll bet you my next pay-check you’ll be hard pressed to find a bunch of pro thespians that can put on a better show. We didn’t just see a great production of a classic here tonight; we saw the cream of the crop of Northern Ireland’s future darlings.Tony Finnegan and his troop of fine young talent should have repetitive strain injury from patting themselves on the back after this performance.
Oliver runs till July 29. Matinee Saturday afternoon followed by the the grand finale on Saturday night. For booking details visit www.goh.co.uk or contact the box office on 02890 241919