Oliver! by the Ravensbury Players – Review

Ravensbury Players Presents: Oliver!

A problem facing any modern production of Oliver! is the huge shadow cast by the 1968 Oscar-winning film.  The Ravensbury Players, directed by Millie Britton, rose masterfully to this challenge last week with a stunning adaptation which demonstrated real depth across a range of talents.

A live orchestra, led and directed by Sian Haynes, accompanied some nifty choreography and spirited singing, and Tam Coates’ violin solo the on Reviewing the Situation was a standout moment.  The set design was minimal and effective and made full use of the Memorial Hall and its various entrances.

At the risk of singling out individual performances, Sam Tilling-Wells perfectly portrayed Nancy’s dilemma, torn between doing the right thing by her man and simply doing the right thing. Mark Davies positively oozed menace as Bill Sykes and had small children cowering in their parents’ laps.  Matthew Haynes (Fagin – possibly the toughest role to take on) skilfully avoided falling into camp or cliché while playing for laughs when appropriate.

But this musical is always going to be about the younger actors, and the workhouse urchins and Fagin’s gang covered their numbers with bravura, while the three street sellers held the audience rapt during Who Will Buy? Charlie Ahl’s Oliver was excellent as the frail, naïf orphan of the title but, for the Raven’s money, it was the Artful Dodger’s show and Raiko Gohara delivered a corking performance with just the right amount of swagger and cockiness.

When a production delivers to standards as high as these, there can be nothing very amateur about “amateur dramatics”. This show more than succeeded on its own merits but for the Raven, the level of community involvement brought the added satisfaction of cheering on friends and neighbours, and being able to share the fruits of their hard work and dedication over so many weeks. Consider yourselves congratulated!