Review by Cicely Binford
21 August 2016
ICW Productions is keeping some of Perth’s youngest music theatre hopefuls and some seasoned stage veterans busy this winter with their latest production of Oliver! by Lionel Bart. This much-loved adaptation of Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist is a perennial favourite for performers and audience alike, and ICW’s 2016 version is sure to please many a proud parent. They’ve moved house for the show to the Joy Shepherd Performing Arts Centre at St. Hilda’s Anglican School for Girls, away from their usual Subiaco haunt of the Regal.
In another development for the company, ICW Productions founder and producer Ian Westrip‘s daughter Charlotte Westrip has moved into the director’s chair for Oliver! which is a great challenge to undertake. But of course, musical theatre is obviously in her blood, and it seems she was up to the task. Westrip hasn’t yet passed the conductor’s baton to any of his progeny, and his orchestra was at its best with a fine body of musicians in the pit. One talented hornist couldn’t resist warming up with a little pre-show Phantom of the Opera.
The set designed by Emily Stokoe was serviceable in providing levels for the action, although some actors who didn’t want to be seen could be seen crouching towards their upstage entrance. The movable set pieces helped to provide distinct locations, and the lighting design by Chris Hastie made good use of what looks to be a top-notch rig. The body mics gave the sound board op a bit of trouble in the first act, though most of that was cleared up a bit further along. Cherie Hewson chose a colourful faded palette for her period costumes.
Performance highlights from the principal cast include Ivan King as Mr. Sowerberry, whose English diction is as upright as the coffins on display in his shop, Jay Walsh as a very kindly Fagin who gives the kids a reason to hang around him that’s not threats and menacing, and Phoebe Jackson as Nancy, who gives a rather heart-rending solo or two and whose warmth radiates across the stage.
But of course, we couldn’t go without mentioning the little pick-pocketing scallywags Oliver, The Artful Dodger and Charley. The kids have an alternating cast, and the performance I attended had Conor Lowe as Oliver, Daniel Paramor as Dodger and George O’Doherty as Charley. Lowe, making his big debut, was meek and sweet with a lovely voice that was made all the more charming by its slight timidity. And as for Paramor and O’Doherty – look out world, these two are already onto something. They’ve both got a natural stage presence and ease that signals good things to come.
With a large cast that includes an alternating children’s chorus, Oliver! is a solid option for a family outing, even with some of the darker themes the show puts forward. It’s always a joy to watch kids who are so obviously having a great time on stage, learning how to work in an ensemble, and probably catching their first dose of the theatre bug.
Oliver! runs until August 27th at the Joy Shepherd Performing Arts Centre in Mosman Park. For tickets, visit the trybooking website here.