What was blatantly obvious from the beginning was that the director was obviously far more experienced (being a school drama teacher) at directing children than adults – all the children looked drilled with military precision, whereas some of the direction of adults looked woeful – particularly badly done was the scene where Nancy is murdered. The Churchill has an enormous stage, yet often many of the adults in the chorus seemed to be lined up at the back, rather as if nobody knew what to do with them. The dog – Bullseye – was also under-used; if you are going to go to all the trouble of having a dog on stage, you must use it, otherwise you might just as well not have it at all.
Of the smaller roles, credit must go to Jane Kerfoot as Mrs. Sowerby. She played this role with genuine gusto as a real Dickensian villainess – in fact, if this is what she is capable of, it was a shame that she didn’t bring it to her role as the Wicked Witch in last year’s “Wizard of Oz”. Credit is also due to Myra Warwick who, as the archetypal “safe pair of hands” brought dignity and quiet humour to the somewhat thankless role of Widow Corney. She did look rather trapped at one point by some awkwardly placed furniture in her scenes, and the business with the teacups really didn’t help. I long to see her “pull out all the stops” one day and show us what she is really capable of, however. Clive Bebee was utterly plumptious as Bumble the Beadle, nicely combining humour and evil, even though the role would perhaps have been better served by playing it as pure evil. Fabulous top notes and a command of the stage that only the really gifted have. The montage of sequences when he drags poor Oliver through the snowy streets was something I wish Charles Dickens could have seen.
Something really must be done about the sound quality at the Churchill. All the principals were miked up, yet no effort had been made by the sound crew to bolster the poor chorus. I gather that this is a "historical" problem with certain crew members employed by the Churchill and should therefore not be taken as a criticism of those on stage. Having said that, with so many bodies on stage, the Ravensbourne chorus really should be capable of producing a bigger sound than they did. The first street scene was wonderfully directed with the hustle and bustle of the Whitechapel streets filling the stage so completely that it was difficult to know quite where to look – like a Victorian print come so totally to life that it threatened to burst out of its frame. The Punch and Judy show was a particularly nice touch. So it was a real shame that “Oom-Pah-Pah” and (particularly) “Who Will Buy?” failed to come anywhere near the highwater mark set by this. One particular point for the choreographer – leave running jetés to those dancers actually capable of performing them; “making a game stab at it” just doesn’t work and looks incredibly naff when it fails to come off. I would also have liked to see more dirt and grime portrayed on stage – all the chorus looked far too clean, well dressed and fresh-faced to convince that they were members of the Great Victorian Underclass. There was obviously “Trouble Dahn T’Pit” as the orchestra and stage parted company on several occasions, and at one point the left hand side of the orchestra even parted company with the right hand side.
Generally though, I “Consider Myself” well pleased with the show and offer my congratulations to the company.