3 July to 15 August 2015
Reviewed by Catherine Joyce
For the last 28 years The Dukes have produced an open air theatre production in the beautiful setting of Williamson Park. This year Debbie Oates, has adapted the traditional Oliver Twist story and rather than the usual London setting has skilfully moved it up to Lancaster and added a Northern twist to the tale.
Before the performance members of the cast mingle with the audience and successfully draw you into a Victorian street market experience. Street vendors selling pies and drinks are an added touch. The play begins and we are introduced to the cast and the Artful Dodger, played by Josie Cerise stands out immediately with a high-spirited performance which continues throughout the whole play. Innocent workhouse boy Oliver is played by Jerome Thompson who never seems to grasp what Fagin and his gang are really up to.
There are seven main cast members who all put on a strong performance. With the exception of Oliver and Dodger the others all play multiple roles and this is so well executed that we didn’t actually realise until reading the programme later that this was the case. Other members of the cast that stood out were Victoria Brazier, superbly cast as Mr Fang the magistrate, a role which brought plenty of humour to the play and Leigh Symonds, perfectly cast as the two completely different characters of Bill Sykes and Mr Brownlow and in both roles gave a very powerful performance.
The beautiful Williamson Park, with break-taking views over Lancaster and Morecambe Bay, is an ideal location and every year the production makes amazing use of the park and its readymade scenery. Unfortunately the rain started just as the performance began and didn’t stop all evening, however we had checked the weather forecast before we left and it predicted heavy rain all night so it wasn’t actually as bad as we were expecting! We had gone dressed in waterproofs so we were prepared for bad weather as were most other people in the audience.
Despite the poor weather the cast soldiered on acting as if the sun was shining and the marshals and other staff were all smiling and cheerful throughout the evening. Moving from scene to scene does have an advantage as we all get to stretch our legs and an otherwise long night is split up for children. We took our two boys, aged 13 and 9, to the play and they both enjoyed the performance although the promise of chips on the way home perhaps kept our youngest going through the rain!
The park is well signposted from the A6 and parking was just £1 for the evening. We had a quick tea before we left but many families take the opportunity for a picnic tea in the beautiful surroundings. Seating varies at each location, sometimes there are benches or logs to sit on and in other locations the audience can sit on the ground. I would recommend taking something to sit on, a chair can be cumbersome and block people’s view but a mat or blanket is ideal, especially when it is wet so you are not sat on wet ground. The play continues whatever the weather so it is definitely worth checking the forecast before you leave and dressing appropriately.
We thoroughly enjoyed our evening out and will certainly be back next year for The Hobbit.
Tickets cost from £11 to £23 (£1 online booking fee may apply).
Oliver Twist is at Williamson Park in Lancaster until 15 August 2015. For more information or to book tickets click here or call the box office on 01524 598500.
Williamson Park, Lancaster, Lancashire, LA1 1UX | Box Office 01524 598500