THE company name is becoming ever shorter, but NE’s production runs in York are growing longer.
Formerly NE Musicals York, NE will be stretching Lionel Bart’s Oliver! into a second week at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, under the direction of Steve Tearle, who is playing Fagin for the fourth time in his career at 62.
“It’s our first venture into doing a fortnight in the theatre,” says Steve. “We wanted to do a show where, if we were going to have two casts, we were going to have a return on it by lengthening the run. We wanted it to be two weeks, not just for us as a company but as an experience for everyone involved.
“Two performances have sold out already [the Saturday matinees] and four have only limited availability [November 18, 19, 25 and 26, 7.30pm]. We’re selling 100 tickets daily and have sold more than 2,800 so far, but you can always ask for more!”
Where once ‘NE’ stood for the company’s roots of New Earswick, now it is an anagram for creating “New and Exciting” musical productions, the latest being a revised version of Oliver! that complements the familiar songs and characters with added scenes to “bring the story to life in more detail”.
“It was revised in 2018, when Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh revised it,” says Steve. “So now we have Bill Sikes in Act One with Fagin.
“I’ve put in a new scene that explains why Nancy so loves Oliver because he stops Sikes from hitting her, and we’ve also revamped Mr Bumble’s character, played at every performance by Chris Hagyard, making him much more fruity!”
The two teams of performers – Team Dawkins and Team Twist – will play alternate performances, led by Zachary Pickersgill and Fin Walker sharing the role of Oliver Twist, the boy who asks for more.
Henry Barker and Toby Jensen will be the Artful Dodger; Fiona Ann Cameron and Aileen Stables, Widow Corney, and Perri Ann Barley and Maia Stroud, Nancy. “They’re playing Nancy in contrasting ways, one older, one younger, so they’re very differing characters,” says Steve.
The intimidating role of Bill Sikes has been re-cast after the original actor had to pull out for health reasons. “Luckily, Eric Jensen has stepped in to play his first big role on stage. Last time, he pushed the bus around and appeared in the bar scenes in Priscilla Queen Of The Desert The Musical,” says Steve.
“He’s been on the equivalent of a speed-dating experience to achieve what he has! To go from where he was to where he is now is unbelievable. He’s taken to it like a duck to water. Who knew he had it in him! And he’s getting on so well with the dog, Bonnie, an English bull terrier, who’s playing Bill’s dog, Bullseye.”
Steve himself is performing in Oliver! for the sixth time, having played Mr Sowerberry for the Tyneside Theatre Company in the late-1970s, Mr Brownlow for York Opera and Fagin four times, first for the Tyneside company in the 1980s and now completing a hattrick for NE, after earlier performances eight and four years ago.
“That’s one of the reasons I can direct it because I know the story so well, the characters so well, the songs so well, that I can concentrate on getting the vision I want,” he says. “It means I can try something new, something different. This is our simplest production of Oliver!, quite dark, and I believe it’s our best,” says Steve, who is joined in the production team by musical director Scott Phillips and choreographer Ellie Roberts.
“We have an amazing set too, costumes designed exclusively for this production and 45 children coming on from everywhere in the opening number. Each show, half of them leave after half an hour; the other half stay to do the rest of the show, and we alternate that with each show. The parents have been amazingly supportive, which we really appreciate.”
Steve is “fanatical” in his research for the show’s costumes. “I think it’s really important, when you’re taking someone back to that Victorian time, to be accurate. You want someone to love this musical for everything it stands for, especially if it’s the first time they’re seeing the show, coming with their parents,” he says.
“I’ve even researched tattoos, which became fashionable in the 1700s, particularly around the docks.
“I’m also passionate about everyone creating their own back story for their role, so that they really live their character.”
Steeped in theatre through his family’s heritage – Osmond Tearle, Godfrey Tearle et al – Steve has been at the helm of NE for ten years, with one guiding principle, ever since being invited to take over by NEMS stalwart Mavis Massheder.
“I’ve gone back to true community theatre,” he says. “I believe in introducing people to performing theatre for the joy of it and the discipline of it too.
“I love it when we take on people who are just starting out because they have to begin somewhere, and if you don’t give them the chance, how will they ever develop? There are so many life lessons from doing theatre.”
NE will re-emerge next year with a new name, still incorporating ‘NE’, as Steve looks to expand the company’s vision. “I need to get rid of the word ‘musicals’ from the title to the point where it isn’t necessary for songs to be in the shows. It could be dance; it could be drama; a whole dance show, a straight play, but definitely not a music revue night.
“I want to attract more dancers and more people who are interested in drama that maybe can’t sing. In essence, we’ll look to do three shows a year, like Nik Briggs with York Stage and Robert Readman with Pick Me Up Theatre.”
NE in Oliver!, at Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, today until Saturday, then November 22 to 26, 7.30pm, plus 2.30pm matinees, November 19 and 26. Box office: 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.
Did you know?
FORMED in 1914 as the New Earswick Dramatic Society, the society has mutated into New Earswick Dramatic and Operatic Society, New Earswick Operatic Society, New Earswick Musical Society, latterly NE Musicals York and now NE. A new name will be announced shortly.
Did you know too?
WEST End actor, musical theatre performer and singing teacher Ashley Stillburn is NE’s new patron.
He grew up in North Yorkshire, performing on the York stage, before heading south in 2011 to study at Guildford School of Acting, where he graduated with a First in musical theatre.
He has since starred in Les Miserables and played the Phantom in The Phantom Of The Opera in London. From Buxton, in the Peak District, he teaches singing online and in person.
“We particularly look forward to Ashley coming up to York to talk to our young actors,” says director Steve Tearle.
Copyright of The Press, York