Oliver! by Haywards Heath Operatic Society, Clair Hall, Haywards Heath
I’m sure many people in and around Haywards Heath have seen the distinctive posters for Haywards Heath Operatic Society’s Oliver! production.
A firm favourite with many, this musical attracted sell-out audiences to Clair Hall, no doubt as a result of the great publicity effort, as well as the popularity of the show itself.
The 50th anniversary show opened with energy and spirit with the workhouse children marching into the auditorium to take to the stage with ‘Food Glorious Food’. In fact, it was one of many ensemble performances that were high energy and choreographed to perfection by Tracey Trubridge.
Juliet McKinnell-Merrett’s excellent direction made fantastic use of the stage design, which provided a perfect frame for the scenes in the workhouse, public house and various cameo settings.
Excellent lighting design created intensive drama hotspots and all these elements were beautifully complemented by the musical direction of Michael Hinton and the quality performance of the band, giving a complete sensory experience for the audience.
Familiar musical numbers brought this popular story to life with vigour and took us through Oliver’s experiences from the workhouse to pickpocketing and finally back to his family, escaping the clutches of the very evil Bill Sykes, menacingly portrayed by Andy Bairsto.
Nancy shielded Oliver from Bill and Emily McKinnell lit up scenes with an energetic performance as the character. She showed flair and exuberance and exuded a feisty fighting spirit in Nancy.
Mike Mackenzie, who played Fagin, was equally adept at conveying the grimness of the workhouse and his performance of ‘Reviewing The Situation’ explained more about his life choices and conniving ways that he felt he could do little about. The solo performance added humour and, even when plagued with microphone difficulties, Mike ramped up the volume and projection to still be clearly heard in the auditorium.
One of the most characteristic performances of the evening was from Charlie Pincus, who was a brilliant Artful Dodger. He brought a wonderful cheeky cockney humour to the role and his projection and characterization was excellent. A wonderful contrast to Charlie was Oliver, played by Max McCourt. Max gave a wonderful sensitive depiction of a vulnerable child constantly on the run from a beating.
The main thing that struck me as an audience member was the holistic and sensory experience and how every member of the cast and crew was integral to the success of the show. The ensemble pieces were a delight and the audience was thoroughly immersed. I spotted quite a few singing along.
In their 50th year providing quality musical theatre in Mid Sussex, the Operatic Society deserve a big well done and, yes please, we do want some more!