Oliver! 1972 Newspaper Articles

[18 August 1972]

Critic says:

Twin-city ‘Oliver!’ is something special

It was an extremely happy idea for the operatic societies of Napier and Hastings to combine for a musical production, and if Lionel Bart’s “Oliver!”, which opened in the Hastings Municipal Theatre last night, is an example of the results that can be achieved, there is no reason why this should not become an annual event.

It is far and away the best amateur musical I have seen and heard for many a long year. James Morgan, who was entrusted with the production of this important event, has excelled himself.

NOT ONLY does this presentation show, at almost every turn, the hand of an experienced producer, but the musical talent on which the two societies had to draw is revealed in the strength of the casting, so that there are absolutely no weak links. And in this connection the name of the musical director, Cec Fitzwater, must be linked with that of Mr Morgan, for Mr Fitzwater’s work on this production is quite obviously of equal importance. Added enjoyment is provided by a well-balanced orchestra which was never out of place.

“Oliver! in case anyone does not know, is adapted from the story of Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, and Mr Morgan managed to retain the nineteenth century old-world atmosphere in his settings and costumes.

IT WAS quite obvious from the opening number “Food, Glorious Food” that this show was going to be something rather special, and I was particularly impressed with the discipline shown in the choreography of this number. It was a discipline that was maintained throughout the production and Mr Morgan handled his crowd scenes with consummate skill, so that they flowed over the stage.

For once the story was allowed to move forward without the imposition of choreographic numbers, and with troupes of dancing girls bearing little or no relation to the plot, the simple choreography that appears in”Oliver!” becomes more of a necessary accompaniment to the musical numbers than an act in itself.

PERHAPS Dickens’s basic story has been overdramatised [over dramatised] in places for theatrical effect, and the body of Bill Sykes swinging on the end of a rope in the closing scenes of the play turned drama into melodrama.

But this was a very minor point in a story which for the most part moved along smoothly, with the musical numbers springing naturally from the dialogue and the story.

IN A CAST universally good it is difficult to single anyone out for special mention. In the principal roles Robyn Houston interpreted the part of Nancy with spirit and vivacity and her strong voice made the most of the hit number “As Long As He Needs Me”; Peter Mackie as Fagin gave one of the best performances I have yet seen him give; and two youngsters in Robert Rogers as Oliver and Alan Rench as the Artful Dodger needed no allowance to be made for their youth. They presented their parts like seasoned performers, and were particularly good in the number “Consider Yourself.”

BOB MURRAY and Gillian Davies as the beadle and matron at the workhouse, also provided some good comedy and tuneful singing to the overall success of the show. Bunny Unsworth as Bill Sykes, although a trifle inaudible on his first entrance, contributed the necessary menace to the part.

In fact, almost the only complaint I had to make with this performance was the difficulty of catching the words in some of the vocal numbers, particularly the chorus.

An elaborate setting with a revolving stage was in keeping with the general high quality of this production and enabled a continuous change of scene to be made without any break in the action.

In fact, the worst feature of this presentation was the programme, which slowly disintegrated after the pages had been turned a few times and by the time of the final curtain became merely a cluster of loose leaves.

The show will continue nightly at Hastings until August 26. and will open in Napier on August 31 and continue until September 9.

THE QUALITY of the musical shows from both the Napier and Hastings societies has been varied in recent years, but the current production of “Oliver!” billed as a twin-city production, looks like being a real winner. I shall be extremely surprised if it does not break all local records. At all events, its quality is such that it deserves to do so. – E.B.

[25 August 1972]

All hands on deck kept show rolling

The motor which drives the huge revolving scenery for the musical “Oliver” broke down last night, causing alarm – and a lot of hard work – backstage at the Hastings Municipal Theatre.

But the show went on despite the mishap, which occurred in the first act and was not cured throughout the second.

When the curtain fell at the end of the night the audience was barely aware that anything untoward had happened.

But backstage the red alert was on – and the situation was saved only by every available hand leaping to and heaving the scenery into place for each change.

The problem was how to get enough men in position to push the heavy revolve without them being seen by the audience.


Their efforts were made harder by the huge belt which propels the scenery. It encircles the 22ft diameter revolve and tended to act as a brake when the scene changes were due.

An electrician was on the job today to find the fault in the motor, which worked sometimes and failed four others.

“We were scared the show would come to a standstill,” a member of the company said today. “But we got there in the end and the audience gave the show a great hearing. It must have been obvious that the revolve was a bit slow turning, but it apparently didn’t detract too much.”

The drama began about 8.45pm when Peter Dixon, who was calling the scene change cues, pressed the button to set the revolve in motion.

The motor whirred and then cut out. The revolve didn’t move.

Most of the cast were on stage singing “Consider Yourself One of Us.” They set off to their pre-selected spots on the stage, but the revolve didn’t go with them.


Seconds were being lost, the action was in danger of being ruined, the orchestra was running out of music and, like the audience, didn’t know anything was wrong backstage.

Peter Dixon pushed buttons frantically. Suddenly the revolve turned and the scene change was accomplished.

As the musical continued stage manager John Collier marshalled every available man and positioned them for the next scene change. Hurried checks were made to locate the fault in the motor. No success.

Up came the next vital cue. Peter pressed the button. The revolve stood still. In dived John’s crew. They heaved and pushed and gradually got the revolve moving.

On stage the boys were singing “Be Back Soon.”


Down in the orchestral well conductor Cecil Fitzwater sensed something was amiss. The adult chorus was due on stage as soon as the boys were finished singing, but the revolve hadn’t turned into position. He held back the continuing music slightly and by the time the adults reached the stage the music and movement were nearly matching again.

During the interval the electrical fault could not be located.

For the stage crew the second act was a nervewracking affair. As each scene change came, Peter Dixon pressed the buttons frantically. Sometimes the revolve worked. Three times it didn’t.


Every time it moved the crew had to leap away from the moving timber. When it didn’t they had to leap into action before any more seconds were lost.

Fortunately, the motor swung into action for the toughest and most crucial scene change – the setting up of London Bridge.

After the final curtain the cast stayed on stage to applaud the stage crew for its strenuous effort.

“Oliver!”, which is a joint production by the Hastings Light Opera Company and the Napier Operatic Society, drew an audience of 780 last night. There were 766 there on Wednesday. Both nights the gallery was open.

So far 4050 people have seen the show, which finishes its Hastings season with a performance tonight and a matinee and evening performance tomorrow.

Original digital file


Business / Organisation

Napier Operatic Society Inc., Hastings Light Opera Company

Date published

August 1972

Format of the original

Newspaper articles


  • John Collier
  • Gillian Davies
  • Cecil Fitzwater
  • Robyn Houston
  • Peter Mackie
  • James Morgan
  • Bob Murray
  • Alan Rench
  • Robert Rogers
  • Bunny Unsworth

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