Australian Dance Reviews

Holroyd Musical and Dramatic Society presents memorable production of ‘Oliver!’

Holroyd Musical and Dramatic Society in 'Oliver!'. Photo by Kirstie Abed Ali Photography.
Holroyd Musical and Dramatic Society in 'Oliver!'. Photo by Kirstie Abed Ali Photography.

Redgum Function Centre, Sydney.
22 July 2024.

Holroyd Musical and Dramatic Society (HMDS) has opened its annual run of community theatre for the year with a lively production of Oliver!. Based on the Charles Dickens 1838 novel Oliver Twist, the story explores the plight of a young orphan in the midst of Victorian England, a decidedly class divided society, and one that did not treat its workhouse ‘Parish apprentices’ with kindness or generosity. Oliver ends up on the streets of London with a dream to make his fortune, and finds himself in with a bunch of rag tag child thieves, led by Fagin, the adult leader of the children, teaching them the way of the streets and criminality. Oliver ends up through a series of events in the home of his wealthy grandfather, a happy ending story in a tale that addresses many of the darker sides to this era, such as lack of common welfare, predatory criminal bosses who take advantage of the poorer classes, and domestic violence, many themes which still ring true today.

The cast consisted of a range of talents, and a great mass of incredibly adorable children, who stole the show every time they came on stage. The children’s ensemble were funny, cute and had many moments threaded throughout the show that added in entertaining little details. The lead role of Oliver in this cast (1 of 2) was played by Percy Chiu. With a beautiful treble voice, Chiu had a wonderful sense of innocence and unaffectedness in his interpretation. Clive Hobson as Fagin played an excellent conniving antagonist, and Bailee van Bentum as the Artful Dodger was an interesting choice of casting as a female in the traditionally male role. Van Bentum brought her own unique take to the quirky role, with a great grasp of the accent and mannerisms. Felicity Amos as Nancy, with her incredible vocals and natural ability to captivate in the audience, commanded the space every time she walked on the stage. Rachel Baker was a naturally vibrant Bet, Samantha Wills was a fantastic Widow Corney, bringing brilliant theatrical vocals and sass to her role. There were some genuinely funny and heart-warming moments that the whole cast brought to their performance.

Costuming, many of the pieces hand crafted by Costume Manager Jenna van Bentum, consisted of period garments that had some lovely intentional choice of colour and detail, each highlighting the character, their personality, symbolising the era and class divides well.

The set design also had a lovely sense of depth to it, making use of a somewhat small space, expanding it to create a sense of layers, corners, and indoor/outdoor, with the gorgeous period images on the cyclorama adding to the sense of time and place. Lighting (by Matthew Lutz) was also a nice compliment to the set, mood, and concepts being portrayed, adding a great final touch to each scene.

Choreographically, the work throughout was simple but genre appropriate, using props and set in a creative manner, and use of the stage space as a whole was good. It was messy at times, but choreographer Caitlin Dennis should be congratulated for her excellent job at working with a large cast of mixed dance training and ability. The group seemed to enjoy performing the choreography, each movement adding to the telling of the tale. The performance communicated a good understanding and commitment of the cast to execute the story through not only song, but also choreography and blocking.

Structurally, there was a lack of connection between the scenes, with what seemed a focus on song/dance numbers, but not the telling of the story as a complete narrative. Key moments in the dialogue were often lost and seemed to be treated as afterthoughts between musical numbers, not as an integral part of the whole, leading to the transitions feeling obvious. It communicated as perhaps there was an assumption that the audience knew, or remembered, the story as well as those intimately involved in the creation of the work.

Musical direction (Natalie Davis-Pratt) was excellent, an accompaniment full of lustre, although the faster sprechstimme moments were a little clunky for the performer. These moments no doubt will smooth out as the run gets going.

Overall, HDMS’ production of Oliver! is a fun show, with a cast of adorable kids, some strong cast members, and a nostalgic score where every number is memorable. As an inclusive theatre company, HDMS makes community theatre a very special experience, and a launching point for many an emerging talent. 

Holroyd Musical and Dramatic Society’s Oliver! is playing until 7 July at the Redgum Centre in Wentworthville. For tickets and more information, visit

By Linda Badger of Dance Informa.

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