Review: Oliver! an infectiously upbeat two hours' entertainment

Emiko Seawright (17) and Tommy Bell (16) as Nancy and Fagin in The Grand Opera Summer Youth Project's Oliver! Photo: Aaron McCracken

REVIEW: Oliver! at the Grand Opera House in Belfast

MANY among those in attendance at last night’s production of Oliver! at Belfast's Grand Opera House had a vested interest in being there as family and friends of the 235 children and teenagers – yes, 235 – on stage.

But if you’re an ordinary punter, even one who hasn’t quite yet reached the point in life at which we seem to give in and just embrace musical theatre, don’t let the fact that it’s a Grand Opera House Summer Youth Project production suggest that it is anything less than utterly professional. In fact, it was jaw-droppingly so; a stunningly impressive, infectiously upbeat two hours’ entertainment, that's had It's A Fine Life echoing around this reviewer's head ever since.

Director Tony Finnegan and his team at the GOH have done a truly amazing job of whipping this bunch of children and teenagers into shape as a cohesive cast who more than did the classic Lionel Bart musical justice on Thursday night. In such a short space of time too, auditions having taken place just a few months ago.

And what a talented bunch they are, each one acting, singing and dancing their heart out, moving on and off stage like clockwork, hardly a step out of place or a bum note, Cockney accents as good as wot yew'd 'ear on EastEnders frewout, mate.

(Could the grown-ups really have had whips backstage?)

Ten-year-old St Michael’s Primary School pupil Luke Fields was in the title role (he alternates what seem like demanding though enjoyable performances with Andrew Montgomery, also 10); he has a lovely voice and a stage presence that belies his as yet pint-sized stature. Methody pupil Conor Cox (13) put in a sweet turn as The Artful Dodger – 14-year-old Sam Gibson takes on that tricky mantle in two out of the four performances.

It seems unfair to pick stand-outs from such a smashing ensemble but 17-year-old Emiko Seawright was sensational as Nancy. What a wonderful singer. As for Tommy Bell as urchins' gangmaster Fagin – well it's surely a dream role for any performer but Tommy made it his own; he had the audience in the palm of his hand – and he's only 16!

Young people worked behind the scenes and featured in the orchestra pit – the music was excellent. The big numbers rivalled any adult production – the choreography of I'd Do Anything, the exuberance of Oom-Pah-Pah...

That there was no hint of panto is a measure of the professionalism of these youngsters, so partisan was the audience at times – whooping grannies abounded and one young theatre-goer yelled "Bad man – time out!" at Bill Sykes (Conor Headley) when he 'struck' Nancy. It all made for a simultaneously boisterous and joyous experience.

:: Until Saturday July 29. Booking and info at

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