May 13 2015 | By More

★★★☆☆    Cheeky swagger

Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh: Wed 13 – Sat 16 May 2015

One of the most charming things about an Encore production is that you can always consider yourself part of the family. And their take on Lionel Bart’s Oliver! at the Brunton is as cheeky and cheerful as you would expect, while still managing to deliver a menacing undertone.

Oliver! is fundamentally a musical about poverty, child exploitation and domestic abuse and this production has moments of horrific and gritty realism.

Oliver, Dodger and ensemble in Consider Yourself. Photo: Peter Antonelli

Oliver, Dodger and ensemble in Consider Yourself. Photo: Peter Antonelli

However, Peter Antonelli’s direction ensures it is interspersed with enough humour to challenge but not consume, with a show that is full of magical music, loveable cockney twangs and delightful dancing.

Encore deliver an entertaining, toe-tapping version of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist; a story of a young orphan boy, Oliver (Gregor Cargill) who after leaving the workhouse and escaping the undertakers finds himself picking pockets in the streets of London under the direction of Fagin (Steve McDonald) and the Artful Dodger (Georgio Michalakis).

The strengths of this production lie in the variation and versatility of the cast. Skilled actors swap roles convincingly, and with ease, while the extensive child chorus is animated and expressive. The group scenes in particular are dynamic, bringing clear energy to the stage.

Heather Antonelli excels with engaging choreography throughout. In particular, Consider Yourself is delivered with a certain swagger that could bring a smile to even the sternest face and the background chorus work in Pick a Pocket or Two is expressive and entertaining.

Gregor Cargill’s Oliver is a delight. He’s sweet, innocent and plays his character with a sense of yearning, desperate to belong.

Steve McDonald as Fagin is keen to take advantage of that innocence, but through his veil of treachery, we catch a glimpse of a redeemable man. It is during Reviewing the Situation in the second act that McDonald really connects as the character.

The Cast of Encore's Oliver. Photo: Peter Antonelli

The Cast of Encore’s Oliver. Photo: Peter Antonelli

There are occasions where it is difficult to hear and understand some of the words on stage, in particular from the male cast. However the female cast members sure make up for it with their big personalities and even bigger voices.

Alison Henry delivers an outstanding performance as Widow Corney at the workhouse alternating between a warm and friendly flirt, and a harsh matron. Hazel Gray plays a colourful and enterprising Mrs Sowerberry who steals the show at the Undertakers. And last, but certainly not least, Gillian Hunter brings the conflicts within Nancy to life. She’s fun yet sensitive, a victim of domestic abuse yet also strong in her convictions.

The show does take a while to find its comfort zone although it has settled into its groove before the lights signal the interval. It isn’t helped by the staging, with the detailed sets shoehorned into the space at the Brunton Theatre.

At points the limited space challenges the rhythm of show and creates comical set changes with repeat fumbles. By the end though, the show wins out and these oddly manage to add to the humour and charm of the production.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (including interval)
Brunton Theatre, Ladywell Way, Musselburgh EH21 6AA. Phone booking: 0131 665 2240
Wednesday 13-Saturday 16 May 2015
Evenings: 7.30pm
Tickets and details: www.thebrunton.co.uk/events
Encore Theatre: http://www.musicalyouth.co.uk/index.html

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