Oliver! at Chiswick School

Image above: Chiswick School students in rehearsal for Oliver!

Oliver is played by Orla, a Year Seven girl who is petite and suitably waif-like to play the poor little rich kid, the orphaned boy led astray by the Artful Dodger in London’s desperate Victorian slums. Bill Sykes, the brutish gangster, is George, a Year 11 student with the physique to be sufficiently intimidating.

Such is the range director and head of performing arts Tommy Robinson had available to pick from in a school of more than 1200 pupils spanning the ages of 11 to 18 for the cast of Oliver!

Musicals are dodgy at the age when boys’ voices are breaking, but otherwise the choice of Oliver!, where you need a large cast of children, is perfect for a school. It’s perfect in other ways too. The music is infectious, all the songs are catchy and everyone knows the words.

The story is simple and poignant and the costumes are easy. “Go and scour the charity shops” was the instruction. Looks like it paid off.

Image above: Chiswick School students in rehearsal for Oliver!

The students at Chiswick School are in rehearsal for two shows next week – their eleventh production this year. They are staging the production of Lionel Bart’s famous musical in the round, in which the audience is part of the show and very much encouraged to participate. The 45 strong cast will perform in and around the audience.

The music will be handled by Zak Moxon, head of music, on the piano and Year 11 student James (students’ surnames are not allowed to be reported) on the violin, but the piano is also central to production, in the middle of things where various members of the cast take it over to play different songs.

The set will be hung from the ceiling in the school’s main hall (which only last year was partitioned off into cubicles for regular testing for Covid). The backdrop of Dickensian London has been sketched out on clear plastic and painted by the students. Such is the vision and energy of Mr Robinson, who is planning four more productions before the end of the summer term.

Image above: Chiswick School students in rehearsal for Oliver!

Twice now the school has been shortlisted for the Outstanding Drama Department award in the national Music & Drama Education Awards, run by Music Teacher and Drama & Theatre magazines and sponsored by Classic FM and Casio Music. Mr Robinson himself has been shortlisted for Secondary School Teacher of the Year in the Pearson National Teaching awards. He will find out if he has won it in May.

It takes a huge amount of energy and commitment to run a drama production in a school – but 15 in the year after the school has coped with everything the pandemic threw at them?! Eat your heart out Summer Heights High!

Four of the Sixth formers in Oliver! are planning to study the performing arts at university next year.

Image above: Chiswick School students in rehearsal for Oliver!

Oliver! takes place on Thursday 5 and Friday 6 May at 7.30pm. All are welcome. Tickets £5 (under 11s go free). Reserve them by ringing or emailing the school: 0208 747 6645 / enquiries@chiswickschool.org and pay on the night. The school will open the security gates on Staveley Rd so the public can drive in and park.

I’m looking forward to seeing it. It sounds like an exciting production and who doesn’t love an Oliver! singalong?

Cast: Oliver – Orla (Year 7), Bill Sykes – George (Year 11), Nancy – Demi (Year 10), the Artful Dodger – Celia (Year 8), Fagin – Manny (Year 11)

For Orla, the performance will be carrying on a family tradition. She casually mentioned on her way out of rehearsal that her grandfather had been in the original 1968 film with Ron Moody and Oliver Reed. He was one of the boys in the workhouse.

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