Oliver! JR Success

Friday 29 March 2024 | By Megan Connor

An audience of around 500, a cast of 23, 78 bespoke cast t-shirts, three wonderful performances, three enthusiastic partner primary schools, one large, tasty Dominos pizza order, plus lots of Victoria Sponge and ‘Rosie Lee’: that’s how our Oliver! JR production shapes up in numbers, alongside what has felt like infinite rehearsal hours!  But what is the real story of this show?

Based on the iconic literary work, Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, the musical adaptation Oliver! JR was written by Lionel Bart and first opened in London in 1960. It has since seen revivals, remakes, and transformations, including into a TV talent show, I’d Do Anything, which was fronted by Lord Andrew Lloyd-Webber in his national search for the next leading lady, Nancy. Despite being full of tunes, glorious tunes, the London that is portrayed by Dickens, and not shied away from by Bart, is a dark, grim existence, full of hunger, desperation, crime and abuse. The longevity of Oliver‘s popularity is largely down to combinations and contrasts such as these.

Against the gloomy backdrop of Victorian London, we experience the innocence of young Oliver, who sees only the best in everyone he meets; the stoic ‘happy-face’ Nancy, determined to make the best of things despite Bill’s mistreatment of her. Friendship is found in the slightly unlikely gang of miscreants where Oliver becomes ‘one of us’, and even Fagin considers a change of career.

Bart wrote and composed prolifically between the late 1950s and mid 1960s, even though he couldn’t actually read, write or perform music himself. He always said he couldn’t tell the difference between A flat and “a council flat” but he was a complete natural. Bart would sing his musical ideas and lyrics into a tape recorder, which was his constant companion. Inspired by music hall, parlour songs and cockney anthems, he spun musical theatre magic with these through his natural gift for rhythm, phrasing and song construction.

Bart died in 1999, destitute and having to pick a pocket or two as much as Fagin himself after selling off the stage rights to the show during a particularly dark time; he certainly enjoyed his fleeting moments of fame and all the champagne and glad rags that came with it.

Our cast have taken on ambitious choreography, complex harmonies and have all worked incredibly hard.  As with all of our shows, the cast becomes like a mini family within the wider school, forging friendships across year groups and building their confidence enormously whilst doing so.  Every year, they do all of this while maintaining their studies, representing the school in sports tournaments, competing in house events, upholding positions of responsibility around school and this year, even passing their driving test!

What a talented and dedicated bunch!  There are too many stand-out performances to mention, with audience members saying it was the best school show they had ever seen and demonstrating their admiration with three standing ovations!  We are incredibly proud of them all.

We are, as ever, grateful to the wider school team for their support with putting on the production: site team, admin office, IT, DT & Art, catering staff and of course, the many teaching staff who gave up their time to attend on the evenings and serve refreshments.  We really could not do this without all of you.

A special mention goes out to Preston Primary, Whinstone Primary and our Upper Prep students whose collaboration and contribution to our shows was hugely appreciated and admired by everyone.

The question on everyone’s lips now, is…what are we doing next year?

Mrs Shevels and Mrs Furness