IN REHEARSAL: 'Oliver! The Musical' by Lionel Bart (Jigsaw Stage Productions), 4-7 April and 26-28 April 2018
WHERE TO GO, HOW TO BOOK:
Oliver! The Musical by Lionel Bart
Jigsaw Stage Productions
4-7 April, 7.30pm, plus 2.30pm matinee on Saturday
The Beacon, Portway, Wantage, OX12 9BX
and 26-28 April 2018, 7.45pm, plus 2.30pm matinee on Saturday
Cornerstone Arts Centre, 25 Station Road, Didcot, OX11 7NE
TICKETS from www.beaconwantage.co.uk (4-7 April performances)
www.cornerstone-arts.org (26-28 April performances)
wegottickets.com/jigsaw (all performances)
Brett's Pharmacy, Grove (all performances)
Enquiries 01235 767509
Helena Kerswell plays Nancy, Bill Sikes' girlfriend, in this new production of Lionel Bart's hit musical Oliver! I catch her during rehearsals, less than two weeks before the show opens for its first four-night run at The Beacon in Wantage (there's a second run at Didcot's Cornerstone Arts Centre later in April). I ask her what the part of Nancy has going for it. 'She's got some good songs...' Helena pauses, '...and she gets murdered. It's my first time being killed on stage. Looking forward to that!' she laughs.
Adults and children mill around the hall, preparing for a Sunday afternoon run-through of the whole show. Helena is already in her costume, ready to start. She's been doing musicals for several years now. After studying musical theatre at college, she spent some years working in the holiday entertainment business in the Mediterranean and back in England. But she decided to get 'a proper job', as she puts it, and now does musical theatre in her spare time. It's a story many amateur theatre performers will recognise. An ambition to act, sing or dance, which 'real life' frustrates, but you end up scratching that itch in amateur theatre. It's given am-dram some great performers.
I ask Helena how the show is coming along. 'It's getting there. It takes a while when you're watching it. You think “have we actually got a show?” But last Sunday, when we did it on the stage, and you saw people in their costumes, all of a sudden, you see that it is coming together.' About half the cast are children. 'The kids are doing amazingly,' Helena continues. 'Oliver and Dodger, they've got a lot to learn, but they're doing really well. All the children are.'
The show has an experienced captain at the wheel with director Gill Morgan having directed musicals for 20 years. The cast has two teams of children, a dozen in each, who alternate between shows, plus twelve adult actors. They are also using dancers from the Karen Brind School of Dance in Wantage. Gill regards that as a smaller cast and seems to take it in her stride. At this stage, there are still many things to sort out, but Gill gives every impression of being on top of it all.
I recognise Edmund Bennett from a previous show with another theatre group, and sidle up to him. He has landed the role of Fagin, which he is delighted about. He tells me that he's wanted to play the part for quite a while now, and that he is now the right age to do so! 'Somebody involved in the last Jigsaw production said, “Oh, you know they're doing Oliver!, you should go for Fagin.”. So I went along to the audition.' He reckons that he got the part because all the other chaps were far too good-looking. I've seen Edmund act before, but how is he at singing? 'I've been taking lessons for this part, unusually. I have sung in pantomime and musicals before, but I wouldn't say I was a strong singer, but I can sing in tune. Some of the Fagin tunes are a bit challenging, because there's a lot of modulation, especially in Reviewing the Situation.' I saw Edmund sing You've Gotta Pick a Pocket or Two later in the afternoon, and the lessons had clearly paid off.
Chris Palmer is far too nice to be playing violent villain Bill Sikes. 'It's a great part and it's a great play,' he tells me. 'I'm particularly enjoying playing a nasty piece of work. It's something to get your teeth into.' This is his second stage role for Jigsaw Stage Productions. His first was last year in Made in Dagenham in which he played multiple roles. In that show he spent, in his own description, a lot of time popping into the wings to change hats. With Oliver!, he's enjoying being able to focus on just one role. He got involved with Jigsaw through his daughter, who starred in their production of Annie two years ago. Chris was persuaded to work backstage. A couple of shows later and he was asked if he'd like an acting role. This time, director Gill Morgan asked him to play Sikes. Chris was delighted, but, he laughs, 'I don't know what that says about me!' I ask him why audiences should come and see the show. 'It's good fun, it's got a moral, it's a good story – one that's lasted many, many years through the strength of the storyline and the great characters in it, and it's excellent fun to watch.'
Oliver! opens on Wednesday 4 April 2018 at The Beacon in Wantage (booking details at top of this post).
Photos copyright Mike Lord
About the Author
Mike Lord has been involved with amateur theatre for over twenty years, mainly as an actor but also, more recently, as a director.
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