Finchley boy Gideon Leibowitz talks to Rosy Moorhead about playing the lead in the Garden Suburb Theatre adaptation of Lionel Bart's classic musical Oliver!

The cast of Oliver! in rehearsal

Gideon Leibowitz plays Oliver

First published in Theatre by

We all grew up singing the songs, our mums and dad knew them, and now our kids are singing them too: Food, Glorious Food!, Consider Yourself, I’d Do Anything, Be Back Soon...

With the excitement generated by the BBC and Andrew Lloyd Webber reality show I’d Do Anything reviving interest in Lionel Bart’s 1960s classic musical, and with 2012 being Charles Dickens’ bicentenary, now seems like the perfect time to stage a production of Oliver! And that is exactly what Garden Suburb Theatre is doing.

“I thought ‘we have to do Dickens’,” explains director Diana Bromley. “We’ve been trying to get the rights for Oliver! for six years. It’s a wonderful production with a wonderful cast.”

That cast, of 37, ranges in age from eight to over 70 (“We really are a society that all the family can join,” says Diana) and is ably fronted by 12-year-old Finchley boy Gideon Leibowitz as Oliver Twist.

“He has the most divine singing voice and a wonderful air of innocence,” Diana says. “You’ve never seen anyone manage to look bewildered in so many ways! It was obvious from the word go who was going to be Oliver.”

“I thought I should audition because it’s a wonderful play and I thought it would be really good fun,” Gideon remembers. “It’s one of my favourite musicals, that was one of the reasons why I went for it.

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“He’s very innocent and polite but he has this side to him – you see it when he gets into a fight with someone who insults his dead mother, he’s willing to stand up for himself.

“The hardest thing about playing him is that almost all the other characters are Cockney, very East End and quite menacing. It’s like swimming against the tide because Oliver is completely unlike the rest of them.”

But Gideon is more than up to the challenge – while he was still at primary school, at St Mary’s C of E in Dollis Park, he was selected to appear in a West End production of An Inspector Calls, in which he played the part of Small Boy and during which he was spotted by an agent who encouraged him to audition for the part of Jason in Mother of Him at the Courtyard Theatre in Shoreditch. Not bad for someone who’s never had any acting lessons.

“Acting’s one of my favourite things to do,” Gideon says. “It’s quite a long way off, but it would be amazing to be a professional actor when I grow up.”

Oliver! is on at Henrietta Barnett School Theatre, Central Square, Hampstead Garden Suburb from Saturday, February 25 to Saturday, March 3. Details: 020 7723 6609, www.gardensuburbtheatre.org.uk

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