REVIEW: : Rowntree Players in Agatha Christie’s Spider’s Web, ends tomorrow

Jake Botterell as Oliver Costello in Rowntree Players’ modern-day account of Agatha Christie’s Spider’s Web

Agatha Christie’s Spider’s Web, Rowntree Players, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, 7.30pm tonight; 2.30pm, 7.30pm tomorrow. Box office: 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk

AGATHA Christie wrote Spider’s Web at the request of its star turn, Margaret Lockwood, during West End rehearsals for Witness For The Prosecution.

Now, director Howard Ella has “re-written” Christie’s 1954 murder mystery for Rowntree Players’ return to the stage after the pandemic hiatus.

More accurately, he has updated Christie’s manor-house setting of Copplestone Court to 2021, with cultural references to Harry Syles, Daniel Radcliffe and the local Aldi, a Nike bag and trainers for dodgy Oliver Costello and a photographic portrait of lady of the house Clarissa Hailsham-Brown, rather than an austere oil painting.

At the same time, a butler in formal attire, a rather old-school child with hair clips, a protective guardian, an eccentric gardener and games of bridge evoke the earlier era, while Graham Smith’s Hugo Birch appears to be dressed for a shooting party.

There are worse crimes – often in a Christie story – than tampering with a text, and Ella’s decision is born as much out of necessity as in the spirit of fun that pervades Agatha’s second most-performed play.

Ella’s production ends up with a foot in both camps, rather than in no man’s land, as do his cast’s accents, but the dialogue stubbornly betrays its Fifties’ roots, like that tell-tale tramline of black in bleached blonde hair.

In the absence of programme notes and indeed a programme – another concession to Covid times, with only a cast list available – Ella explained his reasoning afterwards in response to a late-night CharlesHutchPress email question: “Was there a reason for the modern setting? Was it to do with costume non-availability after the Rowntree Players’ store fire?”

Martyn Hunter’s permanently concerned guardian, Sir Rowland Delahaye

“It was less about the store fire but more about Covid and costumes and control,” Ella responded. “Both from a costume and a propping point of view. Very dull but a necessary evil in these times.     

“It actually was a decision when we thought we could perform in early 2021. But it pushed and pushed.   

“I like the idea of playing it contemporary, although, of course, the challenge sits in balancing that against how faithful you should be to the original dialogue.”

So that clears that up. Now, to the play, wherein diplomat’s wife Clarissa (Gemma McDonald) is spinning tales of adventure and stepdaughter Pippa (Katelyn Banks) is permanently hungry and restless but tired.

Guardian Sir Rowland Delahaye (Martyn Hunter), fellow old sport Hugo Birch (Smith) and young buck Jeremy Warrender (Andrew Roberts) are passing the time, trying to identity different glasses of port in a taste test, waiting for dinner at the nearby golf club, although Warrender looks strangely interested in trying locate a drawer in the desk.

Craig Kirby’s sonorous, stone-faced butler, Elgin, is doing what impenetrable butlers used to do; Jeannette Hunter’s perky, if mysterious, Mildred Peake keeps traipsing in from the garden.

Clarissa’s husband, the something-hush-hush-at-the-Foreign-Office Henry (Rory Mulvihill), has to pop out to a meeting. In pops Jake Botterell’s malevolent Oliver Costello, up to no good with a vow to take Pippa away to her flaky mother.

Spinning stories like a spider’s web: Gemma McDonald’s Clarissa Hailsham-Brown

Suddenly, there’s murder on the drawing-room floor, but whodunit and how does far-fetched fantasist Clarissa cover it up? Desperate to dispose of the body before Henry arrives with a very important politician, she enlists the help/hindrance of her house guests .

Enter the detective, in this particular case Mark McDonald’s heavily-bearded, somewhat heavy-handed Inspector Lord, a wry, if blunter, instrument of interrogation than Christie’s Poirot, assisted by the frank Constable Jones (Sara Howlett, lovely Welsh accent et al).

Christie revels in a “conscious parody of the detective thriller”, leavening all the familiar tropes with knowing humour, while still tightening the suspense ever tauter, albeit over a long stretch of nearly three hours, replete with dropped clues and plot contrivances aplenty.

Add drug addiction, ham sandwiches, invisible ink, a very valuable rare stamp, a secret drawer, a hidden doorway and an unusual corner-turn for a second stage entrance, and Ella oversees a spirited production full of heightened drama, humorous confrontations and murky mystery.

Hunter, Mulvihill, Smith and Kirby are the ballast; Hunter is comedy gold; McDonald and Howlett form a resourceful double act; Roberts could have escaped from a Noel Coward comedy, and the menacing Botterell and precocious Banks bring freshness to the Players’ ranks.

In the lead role, Gemma McDonald’s Clarissa is full of fun and games, but has a few hiccups with her mountain of intricately-spun lines that hopefully will not repeat on her tonight and tomorrow.

Suffused with surprises, some new to Christie’s story, this modern-day yet retro Spider’s Web makes for an enjoyable evening’s entanglement.

How Rory and Rosy recorded their remote roles for the York Radio Mystery Plays

Rory Mulvihill experiments with recording the role of Satan in the shower of his Naburn home, by torchlight, with the script stuck to the wall

THE first instalment of the York Radio Mystery Plays will be aired on BBC Radio York’s Sunday Breakfast Show this weekend.

Aptly starting at the beginning with Adam And Eve, this audio collaboration between York Theatre Royal and the BBC station comprises four 15-minute plays, continuing with The Flood Part 1 on June 14, The Flood Part 2 on June 21 and Moses And Pharaoh on June 28.

Under the direction of Theatre Royal associate director Juliet Forster, who has adapted the mediaeval texts with writer husband Kelvin Goodspeed, a cast of 19 community and professional actors has recorded the episodes, each working remotely.

In keeping with Covid-19 social-distancing rules, the production required the cast members to record their lines on a smart phone from home, having done collective rehearsals for each play over the Zoom conference call app.

Among the cast are Rory Mulvihill and Rosy Rowley, Rory reprising his role as Satan from the York Millennium Mystery Plays in York Minster in 2000, this time in Adam And Eve; Rosy returning to Mrs Noah in The Flood, a no-nonsense role she first played in the 2012 York Mystery Plays in the Museum Gardens. 

“It’s a first for me, doing a radio play,” says Rory, a leading light of the York Light Opera Company for 35 years and a Mystery Plays stalwart too, not least playing Jesus Christ in 1996.

Hades in red: Rory Mulvihill as Satan in the York Millennium Mystery Plays in York Minster in 2000. Copyright: York Mystery Plays/Kippa Matthews

“But I did do a radio recording after the Blood + Chocolate community play in 2013: World War One At Home, done for the BBC, with each local radio station doing its own series.

“But my radio claim to fame – and this should be the title of my autobiography! – is ‘I Was Andy Kershaw’s Weatherman’!

“He once had the graveyard slot of Radio Aire on a Sunday night, with just him and me in the studio, so I had to copy down the weather forecast and read it out on the hour.”

Rehearsing on Zoom has been a novel experience. “I find it a bit strange, video conferencing. I first had a couple of sessions with York Light, and it’s enjoyable but I felt like I was watching Celebrity Squares or Blankety Blank, except that I was on it!”

Juliet tried to “normalise the rehearsals as much as possible”, despite the reliance on technology. “I thought it could be a sterile experience if we were just reading it, but once I was confident with the lines, I decided, ‘let’s look up, get a rapport going’, but the first time I tried doing that with Taj Atwal, I looked up…at Taj’s epiglottis on the screen! She was in the middle of the biggest yawn!” recalls Rory.

“That’s the effect I have on people! If there’s a moral to this story, it is to take Zoom on the chin and accept the way it works.”

Juliet Forster:Associate director of York Theatre Royal and director of the York Radio Mystery Plays

Rory was late to join his first Zoom rehearsal. “They could all hear me but I couldn’t hear them, and by the time I started, they’d decided it should be 14th century Yorkshire vernacular, rather than RP [Received Pronunciation], but I didn’t know that.

“I’m a Leeds lad born and bred, but not I’m not like a Sean Bean Yorkshireman! Anyway, when I played Jesus in 1996 I did very much a Yorkshire accent, whereas for Satan in 2000, I was ‘well spoken’ to contrast with Ray Stevenson’s Jesus.

“In the end, Juliet decided she wanted to try different versions, one ‘better spoken’, one with  a Yorkshire accent, and she then settled on the Yorkshire Satan.”

There was another adjustment needed. “The Mystery Plays are declamatory because they were meant to be shouted off the top of a wagon in the streets, so everyone could hear them, especially this ‘pantomime villain’ Satan, who’s not understated in any way,” says Rory.

“That was one of the things that needed to change for the radio, so after my first effort, Juliet said, ‘maybe tone it down a little’!”

Rory experimented with doing his first recordings in his shower at his Naburn home, thinking it would be an ideal insulated sound booth. “Living in the country, the bird song is beautiful and loud, and I suppose it’s a garden of Eden, and I thought the shower would be quiet,” he says.

Zoom for manoeuvre: A remote rehearsal for The Flood in the York Radio Mystery Plays, with Rosy Rowley (Mrs Noah), second from left , middle row, and director Juliet Forster, top row, second from right

“I stuck my script on the wall and had to use torchlight because I couldn’t have the extractor fan on, but when Juliet heard the recordings, she said it was a tinny noise, bouncing off the wall, so she rejected them!

“I had to do them sitting at my desk in the end, with Julia saying it didn’t matter if there was a bit of birdsong in the background!”

Rory can foresee the Theatre Royal and BBC Radio York rolling out further episodes. “I can really see the potential in this: a situation almost like the York Shakespeare Project, where you do all the canon,” he says.

“But Juliet has to be consistent. We can’t have anyone else playing Satan. I’d be most upset!!”

As with Rory, Rosy faced challenges in choosing the right time and location for the recordings for her role in The Flood Part 1 and 2.

“Living in a busy street and having teenagers in my house, I ended up rehearsing in the garden shed and having to record at two in the morning in my bedroom in the attic as it’s quiet up there,” she says.

Rosy Rowley: Saying “Yes” to playing Mrs Noah for a second time

Collective rehearsals by Zoom were “pretty normal, apart from not being in the same room, as we worked on breaking down the script, but it was just after lockdown started and lots of us had just been furloughed, so that felt a little strange,” says Rosy.

Recording solo and remotely was “lonely, having to record on your own with no voice to respond to”. “So, you had to imagine how someone would have said a line, or try to remember how they had said it in rehearsal, and Juliet would ask you to record lines in different ways for her to choose from, so it was a fragmented process.” says Rosy.

Recording a song remotely with Madeleine Hudson, musical director of the York Theatre Royal Choir, presented another unusual experience. “Maddy tried to get us to sing together for the recording but we had to deal with time legs because of working on separate equipment!” Rosy reveals.”Not easy when you needed to have two phones, one for listening to the backing track, and another for recording your vocals.”

She is delighted to be taking part in the radio recordings. “I’m passionate about the York Mystery Plays, having done the 2012 production and been involved in the Waggon Plays,” she says. “So, I was going to miss them not being done on the streets this summer, but it’s great to have this chance to air them on the radio.”

Playing Mrs Noah is not the only role that Rosy has taken on in lockdown while on furlough. “I’ve become a Covid-19 testing volunteer at the Poppleton testing site,” she says. “I saw an advert and thought that would be a good thing to do, so me and my daughter Imogen [a third-year BSc Fashion Buying and Merchandising student at the University of Manchester] signed up to do part-time volunteering, two days on, two days off.

“We had half a day’s training, partly to learn about PPE [Personal Protective Equipment], to be sure we were fully prepared, as well as learning how to do swabs – and it is rather invasive putting swabs up someone’s nose.”

Rosy had expected to be working eight-hour shifts, but instead it had been “quite quiet”. May it please become quieter still.

Note that in addition to the June broadcasts on Jonathan Cowap’s Sunday show on BBC Radio York, the York Radio Mystery Plays can be heard on BBC Sounds at bbc.co.uk/sounds.

Mystery solved! In the lockdown year 2020, when the streets have no plays, York Mystery Plays take to the radio in June

Zoom in the room: A rehearsal for The Flood for the York Radio Mystery Plays by the remote wonders of 2020 lockdown technology, with director Juliet Forster, top row, second from right, and Rosy Rowley (Mrs Noah), middle row, second from left

YORK Theatre Royal and BBC Radio York are collaborating to bring the York Mystery Plays to life on the airwaves next month.

Four instalments will be presented as audio versions on the Sunday Breakfast Show with Jonathan Cowap on successive weekends from June 7, the Sunday before Corpus Christi Day on June 11: the day since mediaeval times when the plays were performed on wagons on the city streets from dawn until dusk.

Working remotely from home, a cast of 19 community and professional actors has recorded the 15-minute instalments, Adam And Eve, The Flood Part 1, The Flood Part 2 and Moses And Pharaoh, under the direction of Theatre Royal associate director Juliet Forster.

“The York Mystery Plays are part of the DNA of this city,” she says. “The longevity of these potent plays clearly demonstrates how vital the collective act of storytelling is, and how much we need to explore and reflect together on our experiences and understanding of the world.

“We’re determined to keep doing this in spite of the lockdown. So, these plays seem exactly the right choice to pick up, find a new way to create, communicate afresh and encourage one another.”

Juliet, incidentally, previously co-directed Anthony Minghella’s Two Planks And A Passion at the Theatre Royal in July 2011, a play set around a performance of the York Mystery Plays on Corpus Christi Day in midsummer 1392.

This time, she and husband Kelvin Goodspeed have adapted Mystery Play texts for the radio series, drawing on material dating back to the 1300s first resurrected after a long, long hiatus for the Festival of Britain in 1951.

Juliet Forster: York Theatre Royal artistic director and director of the 2020 York Radio Mystery Plays

The York Radio Mystery Plays now form part of York Theatre Royal’s Collective Acts, a programme of “creative community engagement” set up in response to the St Leonard’s Place building being closed under the Covid-19 strictures.

“When we went into lockdown, Tom [Bird, the Theatre Royal’s executive director] kept saying we ought to try to do something with the Mystery Plays, and I suggested that we should do radio plays,” recalls  Juliet.

“But I’d never done a radio broadcast, so I contacted Radio York and said ‘let’s do this together’.”

Under the partnership that ensued, the Theatre Royal has chosen the texts, sourced the scripts, recruited the actors and provided the music, while BBC Radio York sound engineer Martin Grant has mixed the recordings, splicing them together into finished crafted instalments. 

Ed Beesley has provided composition, sound design and foley artist effects. Madeleine Hudson, musical director of the York Theatre Royal Choir, has given the choir and cast songs to perform.

In choosing the plays, Juliet says: “The ones that make for the most fun are the ones around Noah’s flood, but they are also about a family in isolation for 40 days, maybe falling out with each other, so there are parallels with what’s happening now.

“Then there’s the positive ending, which would be good, and that sense of starting again, so it was the perfect choice.”

Voice of an Angel: Christie Barnes recording her role remotely from home for Adam And Eve, the opening instalment of the York Radio Mystery Plays

The Flood, Parts 1 and 2 were picked initially for a spring pilot show, but then the BBC decided to build a series around the Corpus Christi Day tradition in June, and so two more plays were added: Adam And Eve and Moses And Pharaoh.

“I’d already started working on Adam And Eve and thought about doing a Nativity play, but in our conversations with Radio York, they then talked about wanting to keep the series going, with the possibility of four Nativity plays at Christmas and four for Easter based around the Crucifixion,” says Juliet.

“So I thought, ‘I’ll stick with Old Testament stories’, and I’d done the Moses and Pharaoh story for The Missing Mysteries with the York Theatre Royal Youth Theatre in 2012.

“It’s a play about a desire for freedom to get out, which again relates to now: that need to breathe, to get to the other side, but there’s also that moment where they dare not go out, where they stay behind closed doors, so that really is like now. That feeling of living in fear.”

As for Adam And Eve, again the Genesis story is a resonant one. “They were living in this paradise but then lost it, facing hardship and their own mortality, which we’re all facing now,” says Juliet.

“That sense of not knowing paradise is what you have until it’s gone; also that role of being guardians but always wanting that little bit more, when instead we need to be more environmentally friendly.”

In keeping with Covid-19 social-distancing rules, the production required the actors to record their lines on a smart phone from home, having done collective rehearsals for each play over the Zoom conference call app.

Rory Mulvihill experiments with recording the role of Satan in the shower of his Naburn home, by torchlight, with the script stuck to the wall

Among the cast are Rory Mulvihill and Rosy Rowley, Rory reprising his role as Satan from the York Millennium Mystery Plays in York Minster in 2000, this time in Adam And Eve; Rosy returning to Mrs Noah in The Flood, a role she first played in the 2012 York Mystery Plays in the Museum Gardens. 

Rory experimented with recording in his shower as his sound booth in his Naburn home. “I Blu-Tacked my script on the wall and had to use torchlight because I couldn’t have the extractor fan on, but when Juliet heard the recordings, she said it was a tinny noise, so she rejected them!

“I had to do them at my desk in the end, with Julia saying it didn’t matter if there was birdsong!”

“Choosing the right time and location for the recordings was a challenge,” says Rosy. “Living in a busy street and having teenagers in my house, I ended up rehearsing in the garden shed and having to record at two in the morning in my bedroom in the attic.

“It was lonely having to record on your own with no voice to respond to, so you had to imagine how someone would have said a line.”

Hear the results from June 7. Note that in addition to the broadcasts on Jonathan Cowap’s Sunday show, the radio plays can be heard on BBC Sounds at bbc.co.uk/sounds.

Copyright of The Press, York

Why the show will not go on for York Light Opera at York Theatre Royal in 2021

Rory Mulvihill as Fagin and Jonny Holbek as Bill Sikes in York Light Opera Company’s February production of Oliver! at York Theatre Royal. Picture: Tom Arber

AFTER 60 unbroken years, York Light Opera Company will NOT perform at York Theatre Royal in 2021.

The decision has been taken in response to the ongoing uncertainty surrounding when, how and in what form theatres will re-open as the Government conducts a phased easing of Covid-19 lockdown measures, with theatres expected to be at the back of the queue.

“We said, ‘let’s just bite the bullet’ and so we’ve scrapped our February 2021 show,” says leading player Rory Mulvihill, a York Light member for more than 35 years. “Given the present situation surrounding theatres, I’d be very surprised if we weren’t vindicated.”

Reviewing the situation: “We said, ‘let’s just bite the bullet’,” says Rory Mulvihill after York Light decided the show must not go on in 2021 in these Covid-19 times. Picture: Anthony Robling

Rory led the York Light cast as light-fingered gang boss Fagin in the late-February 2020 production of Lionel Bart’s Oliver!. “We’re celebrating 60 consecutive years at the Theatre Royal this year and we were able to do that show, when this [Coronavirus] tsunami was coming but was still on the horizon,” he says.

York Light’s next show, Ali Kirkham’s June production of Kander and Ebb’s Chicago at Theatre @41 Monkgate, has been “cancelled until further notice”.

REVIEW: York Light’s 60th anniversary Oliver! at York Theatre Royal

Food Glorious Food: the Young People’s Ensemble give it plenty in Oliver!. All pictures: Tom Arber

REVIEW: Oliver!, York Light Opera Company, York Theatre Royal, until February 22. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk

DAME Berwick Kaler’s 41 years at York Theatre Royal have come to an end, but one company with an even longer run there is still rolling out the productions after 60 years.

York Light have chosen to mark another 60th anniversary by staging Lionel Bart’s Oliver!, first performed in the West End in 1960.

This latest revival of a perennial favourite utilises David Merrick and Donald Albert’s Broadway stage version, here directed and choreographed by Martyn Knight on an expansive set with walkways, bustling London streets, the drab workhouse, smart townhouse and the underworld of Fagin’s dingy den.

The show opens with a death outside the workhouse, and the dead woman being promptly stripped of her necklace by an older woman: welcome to dark Dickensian London.

Rory Mulvihill’s Fagin and Jonny Holbek’s Bill Sikes in York Light’s Oliver!. Picture: Tom Arber

Once inside, Food Glorious Food bursts into life, the first of so many familiar Lionel Bart songs, choreography well drilled, the young people’s ensemble lapping up their first big moment (even if their bowls are empty already!).

The directorial polish in Hunter’s show is established immediately; likewise, the playing of John Atkin’s orchestra is rich and in turn warm and dramatic. These will be the cornerstones throughout in a show so heavy on songs, with bursts of dialogue in between that sometimes do not catch fire by comparison with the fantastic singing.

This review was of the first night, leaving time aplenty for the acting to raise to the level of the songs, but there really does need to be more drama, for example, from all the adults in Oliver and Dodger’s pickpocketing scene. Likewise, spoiler alert, Nancy’s death scene fails to shock, although Jonny Holbek elsewhere has the menace in voice and demeanour for Bill Sikes. Even his dog Bullseye looks scared of him.

Playing the nefarious Fagin for a second time, with a stoop, straggly hair and wispy beard, stalwart Rory Mulvihill has both the twinkle in his eye and the awareness of the fading of the light, characteristics he brings to the contrasting ensemble numbers You’ve Got To Pick A Pocket Or Two and Be Back Soon and the reflective, sombre solo Reviewing The Situation.

Jonathan Wells’s Mr Sowerberry and Annabel Van Griethuysen’s Mrs Sowerberry with Matthew Warry’s Oliver (alternating the role with Alex Edmondson)

Overall, the company could take a lead from Neil Wood’s Mr Bumble and Pascha Turnbull’s Widow Twankey in their hanky-panky I Shall Scream scene, full of humour, sauce and pleasing characterisation.

Alex Edmondson’s truculent Oliver and Jack Hambleton’s chipper Dodger bond well, especially in Consider Yourself; Jonathan Wells’s Mr Sowerberry and Annabel Van Griethuysen’s Mrs Sowerberry are in fine voice. Her singing is even better, creamier you might say, for the Milkmaid, when joined by Sarah Craggs’s Rose Seller, Helen Eckersall’s Strawberry Seller, Richard Bayton’s Knife Grinder and Edmondson’s Oliver for Who Will Buy?, always beautiful and deeply so here.

Emma Louise Dickinson’s Nancy gives Act Two opener Oom-Pah-Pah plenty of oomph, and although As Long As He Needs Me sits uncomfortably on modern ears with its seeming tolerance of domestic abuse, she gives that bruised ballad everything twice over.

Reviewing the present situation, the singing is strong, moving and fun when it should be, but, please sir, your reviewer wants some more from the non-singing scenes, and then he might be back soon.

Charles Hutchinson

Wig, beard, green coat, Rory Mulvihill is ready to steal the show again as Fagin

Rory Mulvihill, donning beard, wig and iconic green coat, to play Fagin for a second time. Pictures: Anthony Robling

YORK Light Opera Company mark 60 consecutive years of performing at York Theatre Royal by presenting Lionel Bart’s Oliver!, 60 years after the musical’s West End debut.

Running from February 12 to 22 in a revival directed by Martyn Knight, with musical direction by John Atkin, the show is based on Charles Dickens’s novel Oliver Twist and revels in such songs as Food, Glorious Food, Oom-Pah-Pah, Consider Yourself and You’ve Got To Pick A Pocket Or Two.

Leading the cast of 40 will be Rory Mulvihill, a veteran of the York theatre scene, who will be playing Fagin after a career with York Light that does not quite stretch back 60 years but does run to 35. “I started in 1985 with the summer show Songs From The Shows, which was a cabaret-style show, where I remember I was part of Three Wheels On My Wagon as a cowboy,” he says.

Reflecting on his subsequent myriad York Light roles, he says: “I’ve enjoyed all of them, but the one I’m most proud of is Barnum. It was a tremendous show. Every member of the cast had to learn a circus skill and perform it to full houses. I spent four months going to a circus school three days a week learning how to tight rope walk.”

Rory Mulvihill in the rehearsal room for York Light Opera Company’s production of Oliver!

Rory is playing Fagin for the second time, so he is well qualified to analyse the musical’s portrait of the trickster who runs a den of nimble young thieves in Victorian London’s murky underworld.

“The character is written very differently in the musical from the novel, in a way that makes you feel for him. You know fundamentally he’s a bad person but there’s always something that redeems him,” he says. 

“If I had to describe him in three words, I remember there was an advert for creme cakes about 40 years ago and the slogan was ‘naughty but nice’, so I’m going to go with that one. 

“I don’t do anything specific to get into character. Someone once said their character builds as they dress up as them and that certainly applies to Fagin as I’ll be having a beard, wig and the iconic long green coat. It certainly helps wearing the costumes to get into character.”  

Rory Mulvihille’s Fagin with his two Artful Dodgers, Jack Hambleton and Sam Piercy

Picking out the differences between the first and second times he has portrayed Fagin, Rory says: “The children involved give Oliver! its dynamic. It’s a different set of kids and crew of course.

“We only have one set of kids this time instead of two. Having done it once, I’m not starting again, I’m building on what I’ve done before. Hopefully I’ll not stumble over the lines and give a better performance.”

A key part of his role is leading the young cast around him. “Whenever you work with kids, it’s difficult to begin with because they’re scoping you out to see what they can/can’t get away with, but once you get over that, it’s a joy.

Jonny Holbek as Bill Sikes with Roy as Bullseye in York Light Opera Company’s Oliver!

“They’re now quite relaxed in the company of the adult cast and I’m getting to know them – maybe a bit too cheeky at times. Theatre is the best gift you can give a kid to carry through their life.”

That sentiment takes him back to Leeds-born Rory’s first steps in theatre. “Funnily enough Oliver! was the very first show I was ever in. I played the Artful Dodger in a school production at St Michael’s in Leeds in 1968. It was just by accident really. I was just asked to do the part by the director. That was my introduction to theatre and I’ve been doing it ever since. Now I’ve come full circle with Oliver!”

Rory, who has lived in York since the mid-1980s, worked as a lawyer for more than 30 years, at Spencer Ewin Mulvihill and latterly Richardson Mulvihill in Harrogate, before retraining as a teacher of English as a Foreign Language, but he has always found time for a parallel stage career.

In doing so, he has been not only a leading man in multiple musicals but also has played both Jesus and Satan in the York Mystery Plays; York lawyer and railway protagonist George Leeman in In Fog And Falling Snow at the National Railway Museum, and lately Sergeant Wilson in Dad’s Army and the outrageous Captain Terri Dennis in Peter Nichols’s Privates On Parade for Pick Me Up Theatre.

Rory Mulvihill, centre, as the flamboyant Captain Terri Dennis in Privates On Parade

Last summer, he set up a new York company, Stephenson & Leema Productions, with fellow actor and tutor Ian Giles, making their June debut with Harold Pinter’s ticklishly difficult 1975 play No Man’s Land.

Now his focus is on Oliver!, performing alongside Alex Edmondson and Matthew Warry as Oliver; Jack Hambleton and Sam Piercy as the Artful Dodger; Emma-Louise Dickinson as Nancy and Jonny Holbeck as the villainous Bill Sikes.

Rory looks forward particularly to singing the climactic Reviewing The Situation. “It’s a tour de force,” he reasons. “You can’t really go wrong with it. It’s a fantastically written song with a beautiful tune, comedy and pathos.

“Please sir, I want some more…and more”: Matthew Warry and Alex Edmondson, sharing the role of Oliver in York Light Opera Company’s Oliver!

“Lionel Bart clearly thought ‘I’m just going to take the audience’s emotions and put them through the ringer’. So, at the end, they don’t know whether to laugh or cry. A wonderful piece of work.”

As the first night looms on the horizon, will Rory experience first-night nerves, even after all these years? “For me, rehearsals can be more worrisome than being on stage,” he says.

“Performing in front of your peers, certainly for the first time, can be very nerve racking, and it’s getting over that that prepares you for being on stage. By the time you get on stage, you have butterflies of course, but you know you can do it.”

York Light Opera Company present Lionel Bart’s Oliver!, York Theatre Royal, February 12 to 22, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm matinee on both Saturdays. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.