Performances

We chat to Liz Ilett - our Director for Oliver!

“I want audiences to laugh, I want audiences to cry, I want them to believe in the story.”

That’s Liz Ilett’s aim in bringing Oliver! to the Haymarket stage for BATS. Directing the show has been a long-held ambition for Liz, who’s been involved with the Society for more than 30 years. So what’s special about this particular show?

“It’s a musical that has soul and a ‘real’ story. It’s not ‘pretty pretty’, it’s quite grim at times. It’s very much an actor’s musical, and we’re trying to delve deep into the characters and bring out the drama of Oliver’s situation.”

Those characters include iconic roles like Fagin (played by David Izzo), who leads a gang of boy pickpockets, the caring Nancy (played by Kirsty Kingham) and the terrifying Bill Sikes (played by Ali Bagshaw).

Several weeks into rehearsals Liz says she’s “very pleased” with how it’s all going.

Liz performing in  Sister Act, May 2015 , as Sister Mary Lazarus

Liz performing in Sister Act, May 2015, as Sister Mary Lazarus

“It’s a really strong line up of principal characters. The boys playing Oliver and the Artful Dodger are superb. We have two teams of children playing the boys and girls in the workhouse and Fagin’s gang, and some have never been on stage before. The youngest is just eight years old. Repetition is really important to help them learn their scenes and songs.”

Memorable moments in the show include Oliver asking for more gruel, the sinister relationship between Nancy and Bill Sikes, and of course uplifting musical numbers like Consider Yourself, Who Will Buy, It’s A Fine Life and Oom-Pa-Pa.

Liz hopes youngsters seeing Oliver! for the first time this May, will be as gripped by it as she was when she first saw the film as a child.

“Oliver! caught my imagination then – and it never let go.”

Oliver! runs at the Haymarket from Wed 8 - Sat 18 May. Performances at 7.30pm, with Saturday matinees at 2.30pm. Buy tickets online.

Consider Yourself... the Artful Dodger! Meet Ashton and Ben

With his lopsided hat, cheeky grin and streetwise attitude, the Artful Dodger is a great role for a young performer. He’s top dog of a gang of child criminals in Victorian London, who gets to lead big musical numbers like Consider Yourself and share dramatic scenes with characters like Fagin, Nancy and Bill Sykes.

So it’s no wonder the two boys who share the part in BATS’ production of Oliver! are determined to make the most of it.

Ashton Batchelor

Ashton Batchelor

“Fagin’s gang is like a family”, says 10-year-old Ashton Batchelor, ”and Dodger is in charge all the time, he’s always on the move, so I’ve got to use the whole stage. I’m practising every spare second!”

Ashton attends two dance schools and has appeared in shows like Peter Pan, Sleeping Beauty and BATS’ production of Singin’ in the Rain last year.

“It just inspires me being on stage. Seeing the audience happy makes me feel good.”

This will be the second occasion 12-year-old Ben Hastings has appeared in a production of Oliver! at the Haymarket. But he didn’t play Dodger last time.

Ben Hastings

Ben Hastings

“No, I was Oliver then!” says Ben. “But now it’s really fun to be a completely different character. It’s a challenge to play Dodger, who’s always being jolly and making the most of his opportunities.”

Ben’s other previous shows include Joseph and Gavroche in Les Miserables with BATS Next Gen and playing the role of Benji in Priscilla Queen of the Desert with BATS last year. He is full of praise for the Society.

“I’m enjoying working with really talented people,” he says of the cast of Oliver! which features 60 local performers, including 30 boys and girls. “It’s going to be a really amazing show!”

Ben and Ashton will each appear in 6 of the 12 performances of Oliver!, which runs at the Haymarket from Wed 8 - Sat 18 May. Performances at 7.30pm, with Saturday matinees at 2.30pm. Buy tickets online.

Meet our two Olivers!

It’s one of the most put-upon roles in musical theatre. Within 10 minutes of appearing on stage, poor Oliver Twist has been denied food, chased, beaten and sold to a nasty undertaker. That’s before he even encounters gangmaster Fagin and the evil Bill Sykes.

Ollie Webb (L) and Edward Walton (R) practice asking for more chips at Oliver’s Chip Shop in Old Basing

Ollie Webb (L) and Edward Walton (R) practice asking for more chips at Oliver’s Chip Shop in Old Basing

Pretending to suffer those tribulations is a challenge for the two young actors sharing the part of Oliver across 12 performances, Edward Walton and Ollie Webb.

“A lot of the adults are playing some really horrible characters,” says 9-year-old Edward Walton. “But in real life they’re lovely, and I enjoy watching their performances, so I’ve got to remember not to smile when I’m meant to look terrified!”

Edward dressed up as Oliver for World Book Day at school last year, but hadn’t seen the musical before auditioning for the show. He’s enjoying the singing and acting, “but I find dancing the hardest. In the song Consider Yourself there are so many moves to remember!”

Edward’s previous stage experience includes playing Michael Darling in Peter Pan at the Anvil, Benji in BATS’ production of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert last year, and various shows with Theatre 4 Kids, which is run by his mum Julia.

For Ollie Webb, who’s 11, the role of Oliver is his stage debut. He didn’t think he stood much chance of getting the part, but was told auditioning was “worth a go”. And now? “I really like telling the story, the journey Oliver goes on and who he meets. I’m learning to be focussed, and doing new stuff I’ve never experienced before.”

Ollie shares scenes with his mum Theresa who plays Widow Corney, the heartless mistress of the workhouse. “It’s fun! I know when she’s being horrible to me it’s only acting!”

With beautiful songs to perform, like Where Is Love and Who Will Buy, both Edward and Ollie are sure to tug at the heartstrings of audiences in this musical family favourite.

Oliver! runs at the Haymarket from Wed 8 - Sat 18 May. Performances at 7.30pm, with Saturday matinees at 2.30pm. Buy tickets online.

Priscilla Queen of the Desert Review, November 2018 - Newbury Weekly News

I love this show, it’s the ultimate feel-good musical which sends the audience home happy and uplifted. BATS super production was a slick crowd-pleaser and got a well deserved standing ovation on opening night.

The story is simple yet moving; two Sydney drag artists (Tick and Adam) and a retired Les Girl (transsexual Bernadette)trek across the outback in their battered bus to perform at Alice Springs casino - the ultimate purpose of the trip is for Tick to meet his son.

The terrific ensemble worked their socks off and the well executed dance hall favourites slipped effortlessly (and sometimes humorously) into the action and they just kept on coming. Overseeing the entire action were the three sparkling divas (in every sense of the word!), Anneka Wass, Kirsty Bennett and Jade Hollingshead who excelled both vocally and visually. The three male leads had good chemistry and the banter between them excellent, with classic one-liners from the film popping up in the action. Bryn Hughes (Tick) delivered a great character, the role needing to show both glitzy and sensitive sides. Doug Cairns as Adam pulled the stops out to provide a high camp, high energy performance getting a good deal of the laughs. Bernadette is a tricky role as, although played by a man, it is not drag and needs to be played carefully, but still bring out high comedic elements - no problem for Ian Moseley who absolutely delivered on all fronts. Richard Bond as Bob created a most likeable character and young Edward Walton was delightful as Tick’s son Benji (alternating with Ben Hastings).

Fantastic cameo roles were given by Kathy May-Miller (as the slob Shirley), Luannsa Goodman (the very naughty Cynthia Queen of ping pong balls!), and Ben Shallow (Miss Understanding/Young Bernadette).

The large ‘Priscilla’ bus was impressive and the costumes fantastic and glitzy with some breathtakingly quick changes. Julie Dance and her excellent band kept the show swinging along with tight vocals and director and choreographer Martyn Knight must be delighted with his end result. If I have any criticism at all, whilst the lighting was as always, very creative, faces and bodies were often very dark especially at the front of the stage.

Priscilla is all about promoting and celebrating tolerance and acceptance with one big, lavish kitsch spectacle – and it was all done in fabulous style by BATS.

Trevor Dobson

Priscilla Queen of the Desert Review, November 2018 - NODA

Priscilla Queen of the Desert - the musical is an everlastingly popular show full of vibrant, memorable characters and high energy numbers as well as a couple of very emotional ballads It is an observation on love and life as we follow three Drag Queens as they travel across the Australian desert in ‘Priscilla’, their pimped up tour bus. It’s a rich visual display, fast paced, mostly light hearted but we are aware of the darker subject matter beneath.

The production: Director and choreographer, Martyn Knight demonstrated his experience and talent as he drew great performances from the entire cast with his direction and imaginative and impressive choreography. The show was of high energy, especially in the group numbers. There was plenty of vulgar and bitchy exchanges, cheeky one-liners, comic banter and double-entendres between Bryn Hughes (Tick), Ian Moseley (Bernadette) and Doug Cairns (Felicia) – the drag queens. From the explosive opening of Its Raining Men to the finale the evening was packed with absolute show-stoppers. It was fast paced, vibrant and hugely enjoyable. There was non-stop energy, talent and drive from the entire cast.

Costumes: The endless arrays of costumes were glamorous, eye-popping, dazzling and some defying gravity and I cannot imagine how they were stored! They were of the highest quality.

Lighting and sound: The lighting was excellent and imaginatively used. The sound was excellent with voices clear and blended well with the live music. There were some outstandingly strong vocals, particularly from the Divas: Kirsty Bennett, Jade Hollingshead and Anneka Wass.

Scenery: The sets were amazing and were effectively created and of high quality and cleverly designed. Priscilla, the tour bus was well designed and rotated to reveal the insides. There was minimal disruption during the scene changes which were done efficiently, sometimes behind action in front of the curtain.

Chris Horton
National Operatic and Dramatic Association (NODA) South East Region, District 14 Representative

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