Paul Johnson | 14 Aug 2015 14:35pm
The Orchard Theatre’s annual Summer Youth Project is a marvellous example of community theatre, it’s initiatives such as these that provide young people with a wonderful opportunity and valuable experience of what it’s like to produce theatre in a professional environment.
With the sad demise of professional Rep companies, it’s fallen on the amateur sector, and especially projects like this, to provide tomorrow’s West End stars with an early dose of the performing bug. From a vast cast of 142 (plus 1 scene-stealing dog) the law of probability suggests that several of the talented youngsters treading Dartford’s boards this week will surely wind up on the professional stage.
In the space of just two weeks, under Richard Peakman’s direction and choreography, the Orchard’s professional production and technical team, together with Mel Crouch’s impressive eight-piece orchestra (and not forgetting fourteen vital volunteer chaperones), have somehow – and don’t ask me how – managed to organise and direct a full-scale production of Lionel Bart’s timeless Victorian masterpiece, Oliver!
On opening night, proud parents, grandparents, families and friends packed the Orchard’s auditorium to bursting point, giving the youth company rapturous rounds of applause and supportive cheers at the end of every one of Lionel Bart’s famous songs… and didn’t they deserve it. It seemed there were performers everywhere, filling every nook and cranny of the theatre. Even the aisles provided suitable performing spaces for endless lines of workhouse urchins and pickpockets.
Of course, some performances will shine a little brighter than others, but you would expect that, especially after such a short rehearsal period. While the show has a delightful ensemble feel throughout it would be wrong not to mention one performance that shone very brightly indeed. The star of the night would have to be the super-talented Thomas Falconer who gave one of the best performances of Fagin I’ve ever seen – assured, confident, entertaining, funny and completely convincing without ever descending into caricature, which isn’t easy with one of theatre’s most infamous figures. Such a mature and extraordinary performance was a joy to watch and it was completely fitting that Falconer, as Fagin, gets to close the show as he strides off into the sunset (well… creeps off into the shadows actually).
The vocal quality throughout was of a consistently high standard and will no doubt get even better over the remaining couple of days. Testament to MD Mel Crouch, who I know from experience will have drilled her charges thoroughly with vocal exercises at each rehearsal. Caroline True’s well-delivered first-night rendition of As Long As He Needs Me brought a huge and deserved cheer from the audience which will no doubt give her the confidence needed to add even more emotion to the celebrated song.
Joel Falconer (a relation of Fagin?) was nicely cast as Oliver Twist who thankfully played him as he should have been – a boy who grew up in a workhouse, unlike the artificially sweet angel Mark Lester presented us with in the film. Opposite Master Twist, Calum Page, although maybe even slightly shorter than Oliver, was born to play The Artful Dodger and oozed the cheekiness, charm and streetwise savvy that earned the character his name. Nathan Wills’ Bill Sykes was another well-played role with Wills relishing the opportunity to impose Sykes’ evil personality on all who dared come before him.
With so many principals and performers onstage it’s quite impossible to mention the entire company who collectively worked tirelessly to pull off a great result of this year’s summer project, so I’ll finish with a word about the most frighteningly adorable Bullseye ever. Milo the dog walked onstage in act two and I heard the whole auditorium gasp as one! Here was one of the biggest, scariest creatures we’d ever seen. However, it very soon became apparent that he was probably as soft as a pudding – dispelling the audience’s worries that Oliver was about to be eaten.
A huge well done to the entire cast and I, like everyone else, had a tear in my eye as the curtain fell.
- : admin
- : 13/08/2015