WHEN Alison Gilbert made the switch from photographing the cast of local musicals to joining them, there was one show that held a particular appeal.
"I haven’t really been to see all that many musicals, but I watched Oliver a lot when I was growing up," said Gilbert, who now finds herself playing the most important female role in the Lionel Bart show, the ill-fated Nancy.
It is something of a turnaround for the Scottish Provincial Press and Highland News/Inverness Courier/Strathspey Herald/Ross-shire Journal/Northern Times photographer, who is happy enough to sing along with Sam Smith in the car, but never felt good enough to perform in front of other people, even though she had long held dreams of appearing on stage.
"When I was a kid, I wanted to be in a West End musical. Then I wanted to be a vet. Then I wanted to be in a musical, but my teacher thought I’d make a better politician," she said.
Gilbert, who had not sung in public since a bad experience with karaoke in university, is well known to the Inverness amateur theatre and musical community as she regularly takes photographs of their productions, but has increasingly felt drawn towards being a participant in their shows rather than just an observer.
"I get to go to a lot of dress rehearsals. The first one I went to was Guys and Dolls, which Inverness Opera Company were doing. I only needed a few photos, but I ended staying and chatting to one of their stalwarts, Roger Cope," she said.
"I also photograph The Florians and Starlight a lot and there’s always been a bit of a green-eyed monster in wanting to do it, but not getting the chance."
She almost took the plunge with Starlight’s version of West Side Story last year, but a combination of the female roles being too high and unfamiliarity with a story she had never seen stopped her from taking part.
It was a different matter when Starlight announced Oliver, the musical version of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist.
"I thought that I would really like to be Nancy, but I didn’t have the experience, as well as being generally quite busy, so I talked myself into not going for it and I went for the chorus parts instead," Gilbert revealed.
However, once she had sung Consider Yourself with the rest of the chorus, she was asked to sing Nancy’s big song from the show, As Long As He Needs Me.
That went so well, she was invited to attend the auditions for Nancy and, despite arriving 15 minutes late, was offered the role.
"I kind of freaked out a bit when I was offered the part," she admitted.
"They sent out an email with the cast list and three down it was ‘Nancy — Alison Gilbert’ and I spent the next hour going from ‘This is such a bad idea, I don’t know why they chose me’ to ‘This is so cool’ and being so excited.
"I’ve really enjoyed it. I was in the chorus for Guys and Dolls when I was at university, but I wasn’t studying at the same place and didn’t get to every rehearsal, so I didn’t feel like I gelled, but they’ve been really nice.
"But not too much. They tease you as much as encourage you. Gary Black, who’s playing Fagin, has done quite a lot, so it’s been good just watching him."
And despite the old theatrical adage about never working with animals or children, Gilbert is delighted to be working with her younger co-stars.
"They are so good — I love them! I don’t know if it’s because they’ve been told they love Nancy because she’s their surrogate mum, but they do," she said.
"Every time I walk in, little Lachy Hogg, who plays Oliver, comes over and gives me a big hug. They are all really nice and Lachy and Dan (Corr, the Artful Dodger) knew all their lines ages ago. They are totally showing the adults up!
"They are just perfectly cast. Lachy’s really charismatic. He’s got the innocence, but with an edge behind it, and Dan’s cheeky. He’s very good at the Dodger swag, but there’s a warmth to it as well. If you were a kid, you would want to be his friend."
• Starlight Musical Theatre presents Oliver at the Empire Theatre, Eden Court, Inverness from Wednesday 12th to Saturday 15th August.