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Tuesday, March 24, 2015


(Pic by Val Adamson)

Charming and adorable performances from the workhouse orphans. (Review by Keith Millar)

The first production for 2015 by the Durban University of Technology Drama and Production Studies Department is Lionel Bart’s fabulous musical, Oliver!, which is based on Charles Dickens classic novel, Oliver Twist.

The production runs until March 28 at DUT’s Courtyard Theatre.

It is an ambitious project as Oliver! is a huge, lavish and extravagant musical and to present it with the limited space and facilities available at the Courtyard Theatre is a real challenge. However, the staff and students of DUT have risen to this challenge and produced a version which is by and large very acceptable, entertaining and charming.

The production features 55 first, second and third year students, and 12 children from the community who were chosen after two rounds of auditions. Musical accompaniment is by live piano, excellently played by Richardt Wissink. The set which is utilitarian and effective is designed by Peter Court and built by Jimmy Alberts. Musical direction is by Madlen Tzankova and choreography is by Mdu Mtshali. Directing the entire operation is Dr Pamela Tancsik.

Oliver! is a feel-good story of young Oliver Twist whose mother died during childbirth. He grows up in a Victorian workhouse, or orphanage, until he is sold as child labour at the age of 11 to an undertaker. He eventually runs away joins a street gang. Ultimately, he is found and adopted by his grandfather, Mr Brownlow.

Along the way he meets many colourful and eccentric characters such as the head of the workhouse, Mr Bumble, the Artful Dodger, the leader of the street gang, Fagin, the kind hearted Nancy and the evil Bill Sykes.

Director Tancsik recognised that issues prevalent in Victorian London, such as poverty, street children, theft, child labour and violence against woman and children are still social problems today. Therefore, she re-set the musical in modern day Durban. This works quite well except for a few occasions when the sheer Englishness of the piece seems to be at odds with the South Africanised characters.

The musical is packed memorable songs such as Food Glorious Food, Oliver!, Consider Yourself, You’ve got to Pick a Pocket or Two, As Long as He Needs Me, I’d Do Anything and Oompah-Pah.

In general the performances of the students are solid and authentic, if at times a little over-acted. The standouts for me were Nombuso Wanda as the Artful Dodger, Sandile Magagula as Fagin and, as Nancy, Khethiwe Mzolo who has a beautiful singing voice and whose rendition of As Long As he Needs Me was one of the stand-out moments in the production.

However, stealing the show was the group of children who played the workhouse orphans and members of Fagin’s street gang. Their collective performances were utterly charming and adorable. Aged between six and 12 years they light up the stage and perform with abandon and a sense of real joy. Particularly six year old Alessandro Hayley-Coplo who is rare talent and has every mother in the audience falling in love with him. Never has W C Fields’ suggestion that actors should never play alongside animals or children been truer.

As student productions go Oliver! is one of the more pleasant I have seen. It is always worthwhile to see the growth and development of the next generation of performers.

Oliver! will be staged until March28 at Courtyard Theatre at the Steve Biko Campus of the university.. Performances until March 27 are at 19h00 and on March 28 at 15h00.Tickets R50 (R25 children). For more information contact the Departmental Secretary, Lebo hang Sibisi on 031 373 2194 or email: - Keith Millar