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.”
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: 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.
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.
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.
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 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
“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.”
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.
“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.
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.
“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
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.