Theatre in Wales

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It's a Fine Life- Return of the Summer Musical

Aberystwyth Summer Musical

Oliver!- An Aberystwyth Arts Centre Production , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , August 10, 2019
Aberystwyth Summer Musical by Oliver!- An Aberystwyth Arts Centre Production Lionel Bart wrote book, lyrics and music for his 1960 hit. He opens his show in the best of ways with a big number. On the sizeable Theatr y Werin stage “Food, Glorious Food” has a company of fifteen grey-suited children at their stark workhouse tables. The singing is loud and clear, the choreography assertive and fluid.

Two groups of Ceredigion children alternate over the thirty-one performances of “Oliver!” this month. For the opening night the company is made up of Tobenna Victor Okoro, Hugo Richardson, Owen Jac Roberts, Iwan Samuel Finnigan, Catrin Haf, Nel Rhys Evans, Alysha Scarrott, Pranav Krishna, Miriam Llwyd Davies, Heledd Davies, Lili Erin Collier, Anest Fflur Jones, Rhodri Davies and Ellie Benjamin Toe.

It is worth spelling out the company in full for a reason. Aberystwyth Arts Centre has a habit of propelling young performers into a professional life. Bart's score draws on rousing music-hall-inspired melody that he knew from his East End upbringing. But his most exquisite composition is the five-part harmony “Who will buy?” The opening line, repeated, “Who will buy my sweet red roses? Two blooms for a penny” is beautifully sung by Bethan-Mair Pearce. She is not new to reviews on this site, her dancing skills first picked out for praise in “the Wizard of Oz” and again in “Aladdin” and “Sister Act.” The difference between the Aberystwyth stage of 2014 and 2019 is a sharpened precision in dance steps and timing, a result of time away, at Italia Conti. Her credits this year are also Assistant Choreographer and Dance Captain.

The arts of Wales like to spout about community. But the point about community is just that, it is made and fused locally, in its community. Charlotte O'Leary is getting critical plaudits this month four hundred miles away. That route to Edinburgh success started, as so many have done, with the acting group a few miles from home.

The Aberystwyth summer musical has followed an arc. Its absence over the past few years has been noticeable. Selladoor is a good company but their productions were not the same as ones that are made locally. “Oliver!” is reprised from 2005 and has gone back to its roots. The director is again Richard Cheshire. Oliver then was played by Sam Ebenezer and now he is a thoroughly unpleasant Noah Catchpole. Other Aberystwyth faces are recognisable. Jordan Jones has had the busiest of summers, his Amos Hart reviewed below 15th June. He and Maeve Courtier-Lilly make their professional debuts in this show.

In the pit musical director Daniel Jarvis is at the keyboard and conducts his eight musicians, predominantly local, some still at school. The adult characters too are played by some familiar faces. Ieuan Rhys, once a rumbustious Alfred Dolittle on this stage, is the Beadle. Gillian Elisa is a sweet Widow Corney calling him “Mr Bumble-Bach”, less sweet when she has inveigled him into matrimony. Matthew Wellman and Amy-Jane Ollies, also in the ensemble, are the thoroughly misanthropic Sowerberrys.

As for the villains Matthew Ashforde's Fagin captures the ingratiating malice but also the solitariness and pathos of the miser. Against him John Lyons is a virtuous Mr Brownlow. A good plot is grounded in a powerful villain. Richard Corgan is a Bill Sykes of brooding, unredeemable malevolence. In the junior leads the production has three Olivers and two Dodgers. For the opening night Charlie Longman is an Oliver both vulnerable, hopeful, and feisty when locked in a coffin. Mackenzie Lawlor and Rhodri Jenkins take the role over for future performances. Anirudh Krishna took credit for a sparkle of a “Consider Yourself” for the first night. He shares the role with Sam Rolt over the season.

“Oliver!” is a big show with a lot of credits behind it. At the Arts Centre the management team led by Dafydd Rhys and Louise Amery has made it happen. The arts in the public domain is an ecology. In past years coaches have been seen from destinations in Powys, Gwynedd and Carmarthenshire. That is good and it was good to see the Arts Council of Wales present for the first night. It is good too that Nick Bache and the technical team, beneficiaries of a state-of-the-art theatre upgrade last year, have a big locally grown product to show off.

Elinor Powell is crucial, being director for the young actors who sing and act with aplomb. The company for other performances also includes Siôn Euros James, Osian Jewell, Molly Hughes, Harri Jones, Steffan Jones, Eliza Cooper, Ashe Jones, Alisha Aydogmus, Elan Mari Mabbutt, Neve Ella Jones, Sean Bevan, Tili Hughes, Hanna Wyn Jones and Nancy Kirk.

Anna McGarahan's high-spirited Nancy is in a red dress and sings with a big voice. As she puts it truthfully:

“When you got someone to love
You forget your cares and strife
Let the prudes look down on us
Let the wide world frown on us
It's a fine,
Fine life!”

“Oliver!” continues until Saturday 31st August. A BSL interpreted performance takes place matinee 22nd August.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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