Reviews 1995 – 2000

Once Upon A War (1995) and Ragged Child & Whistle Down the Wind (1996)

ONCE UPON A WAR – YOUTHFUL SIGHTS AND SOUND OF THE WAR – Michael Drake EDP
Director Adrian Connell, head of music at Broadland High School, has brilliantly melded these youngsters into a most convincing unit.
With Richard Taylor’s telling score directed by Sylvia Newton allied to a script based on Denise Coffey’s book, a powerful tale is convincingly told often amusingly.
Tim Seabrook’s stage management is an art in itself – a little noisy sometimes, but scenes change easily as the cast make a skilful marriage of speech and song.
With splendid 1940s dress and authentic German uniforms it was difficult to believe that the large cast were aged only between 11 and 19.
In the first half there are some slick acts in the children’s “Liberation Revue”, and in the second act a lump comes to the throat as one of the children is killed.
Everyone deserves a mention but one must praise Kim Webster, rarely off-stage, as the mother of the central Donzelle family for an outstanding contribution of convincing acting and singing.
There is pathos, despair, tragedy and eventually joy. For both the cast for whom the war is a chapter in their history books and those of us closer to the reality of the event, there was a message. “Can you imagine what it was like?” said the narrators, who had opened the drama. I would think they have a better idea now and the rest of us a reminder.

RAGGED CHILD – PREPARE TO SHED A TEAR IN THIS RIVETING PRODUCTION – Michael Drake EDP
It’ll be all right on the night. If the standard at last night’s dress rehearsal of the Taylor and Whatley classic musical drama of the London Vagrants’ transformation by Lord Shaftesbury is maintained then it will be more than all right and will more than build on the reputation the company gained in last autmnn’s production of Once Upon a War.
The whole cast of some 40, and in particular those in the leading roles, were completely convincing in this evocative story of cholera-ridden Victorian poverty in London and Adrian Connell’s production is again slick and ever-moving.
After an early hiccup with taped music, a few places where singing projection could be improved and one or two over-noisy scene changes, the rest was given to some riveting scenes, cleverly interspersed with spotlit cameos.
The open stage, too, gave one a feeling of being part of the production. Of those leading roles each was full of confidence and beautifully played.
Look out for Polly and Mr Giles together with Jonothan Livermore as the young thief Joe Cooper (“he may have picked a pocket but did he commit the crime?” is something to ponder throughout). He was totally committed to his character, as was Dale Guthrie as Shaftesbury, while Nicola Cushing’s Crossing Sweeper flowed with great continuity and the nasty little gang leader Leary of Sam Filgate has just the right amount of menace.
And ll-year-old Rebecca Taylor as the sick Annie Cooper is quite outstanding – a little waif with pleading eyes, a sweet voice, London accent an’ all. After the Vagrants’ reformation, the Bootblacks make a real song and dance before Joe is offered the chance to go to Australia – a far cry from his original punishment of deportation to Botany Bay, followed by a real nightmare for him after the death of Annie.
There are many places where one might shed a tear, not least at the ironic twist at the end.

WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND – NOSTALGIA WITH VITALITY
Charles Roberts EDP
Whistle Down the Wind is a show with a good old fashioned story which effortlessly takes us back to wide-eyed childhood wonder and gently strips away our emotional defences. For this is a tale of childhood caring and faith in a risen Jesus set against a background of loud, angry, carping adults; and of conflict between equally uncomprehending youngsters and grown-ups.
This NYMT production, pulls out all the stops in this musical adaptation by Russell Labey and Richard Taylor, and carries us emotionally captive to its moving conclusion. There are some luminous and genuinely touching choral cameos, not least when the’ assembled children meet for the first time The Man they believe to be Jesus.
The larger group choruses, especially the riotous Christmas gathering scene in which parents are musically pitted against children, have immense vitality and verve which take Richard Taylor’s complex score in their stride. Laura Wales brings to the central role of Cathy a lovely, unforced soprano of clarity and accuracy, as well as warmth of personality, centred steadiness and glowing belief which give her interpretation a very special quality.
As her brother Charles, Joshua Lincoln has pleasing vitality and physicality. With a little more vocal projection, Emily Clark as sister Nan would complete an enchanting portrayal. And as their father, Jamie Ward grows in depth and stature as the evening progresses.
Director: Adrian Connell.

1997 – Captain Stirrick,
The Adventures of Mr Toad & The Vackees

CAPTAIN STIRRICK – YOUNGSTERS DISPLAY RICH TALENT FOR TOP HONOURS AMONGST THIEVES
A funny thing happened at the theatre last night. For among the poignant messages from child prisoners, there is much humour. Among the puppet and Punch and Judy booths at London’s Bartholomew Fair are plenty of pickings in the group’s latest fine production. Rich, too, is the talent as these youngsters again put on music drama to an extraordinarily high standard, taking us to a sleazy children’s prison in the early 19th century and the fantasy world of Ned “Captain” Stirrick’s unlikely tales.
To catalogue all the principals would be to give them short shrift, for the whole cast portray their older characters in such convincing style that one often forgets their age. But mention must be made of Timothy Winters in the name part. On stage practically the whole time, his is an unflagging performance and he is a believable teller of tales – especially so his one over a background solo viola.
Ned’s gang of young pickpockets will nick anything which moves but there are social messages in Adrian Connell’s production. “Direction and movement” he is credited with in the programme. Both are carried out quite brilliantly. Everyone knows exactly what he is doing; all the songs, based on old London ballads are enthusiastically sung and the earthy back street language of Stirricks’s Law rules. Deportation to “Bo’ny Bay” always looms behind the beautifully presented song as Ned becomes a “victim of his fellow man.” Add a murder and life doesn’t get much lower- except for the fright of Newgate where he “paid the price for all our vice.” Honour among thieves? NYMT gets it.
Michael Drake

THE ADVENTURES OF MR TOAD
NORFOLK Youth Music Theatre began their open air Summer tour with a bang – in more ways than one – at Rainthorpe Hall, Tasburgh on Sunday. This most talented group of youngsters under the direction of Adrian Connell overcame a 45 minute interruption shortly after the start, due to thunder, lightning, wind and rain, and another minutes before the end, to give the audience a highly entertaining afternoon.
The production had got off to a lively start with the chorus line of Weasels and some really excellent singing and acting from Anna Watson (Mole) and Josh Lincoln (Rat), when the heavens opened and we all scampered for cover inside historic Rarnthorpe Hall.After a lengthy delay the production was able to get under way again but due to the wait it took a little while to get the pace up again. However, with the splendid arrival of Sam Filgate as Mr Toad it soon got into gear again. Sam has that special ability envied by many amateur actors – real stage presence and charisma! This was a superb performance which took the audience by the scruff of its neck and carried them along with him.
However, this was by no means a one-man show with splendid and confident performances from all the cast from the principals to the smaller roles – I particularly enjoyed Emily Clark’s cameo role of Rosie. The chorus line also included some future stars with some great routines, ~ particularly at the. Chief Weasel’s (Jennie Haldstead), BIrthday Ball.
The show continues until July 27 at various Norfolk locations – I thoroughly recommend you catch this!
DISS EXPRESS

THE VACKEES
NOW in its third year the Norfolk Youth Music Theatre is fulfilling a vital development need for talented youngsters in the South Norfolk area. Under its Artistic Director, Adrian Connell the group has swiftly achieved a first rate reputation, and their latest offering, “The Vackees”; a second World War musical, showed exactly why.
This was an excellent production for bringing all ages together -plenty of first rate parts for the company’s youngsters and a nostalgia trip for their grandparents in the audience.
What a wealth of well drilled talent there was to be seen on stage! A cast of almost 50 acted and sang their socks off with tremendous verve and versatility. It seems a shame that space prevents an individual mention for all, but suffice to say that this really was a team effort in every sense of the word.
Nevertheless, some individual performances were of such high quality and given with a depth and maturity beyond their years they are screaming out to be highlighted.
Eleven year old George Crowley in the central role of Kip the East End evacuee was nothing short of brilliant. This was a demanding and lengthy role, but young George tackled it like a seasoned veteran. Here is a natural if ever there was one.
Twelve year old Rebecca Taylor as the local lass who falls for young Kip was equally impressive, but came as no surprise to me for I earmarked her for bigger things after seeing her first with our local Pulliam Players a couple of years ago. This young lady also has much more than her fair share of talent. Both her acting and her singing were a director’s dream.
Joshua Lincoln as Buzz, the leader of the local gang, grabbed my attention early on for his acting skills, but in the second act, and partnered by Sarah Wilkinson in an Astaire – Rogers routine, his dancing was quite sensational for a 13-year-old boy. What a future he could have if this talent is harnessed and nurtured. Finally, anyone who saw this production would lynch me if I failed to mention the diminutive nine year old George Sargent as the evacuee Eric. Another budding talent here and a real scene stealer and I would imagine a real handful for the director in curbing his extrovert style without stifling it.
Music, lighting, dancing, sets and costumes were all first rate and contributed greatly to a wonderful production.
This week’s sting in the tail – “The Beezer” cpmic prominently displayed in the opening number was not published until after the war!

1999 – Bendigo Boswell,
Worzel Gummidge & Oliver!

BENDIGO BOSWELL
Once again a lively and vibrant show with excellent mastery of a Taylor score from Norfolk Youth Music Theatre, congratulations on an excellent production and I was pleased to see such good support.
The piece was very suitable for the company with the many small roles to research and understand the social history and to play to the full. The division into the four groups of locals, Londoners, gypsies, and hop pickers gave a good chance to all to shine and exploit a character in the period, plus the extraordinary musical and singing talent of this group; the youth orchestra again did very well with the score.
Once again Rebecca Taylor and George Crowley held our attention with their thoughtful, disciplined, and professional performances as Anna and Bendigo, they have blossomed through NYMT and work so well together (I note that these experienced players is each 11 years). Jamie Wade and Ruth Davis as the Harris parents gave mature interpretations to strong characters. A cheeky Abel from Samuel Legood and a typecast vicar from Alex Best. The Ballad Singer must be commended for holding the action together and telling the story so tunefully and clearly.
Some wonderful cameo characters within the story and all portrayed with depth and strength after the usual high standard of research, fun and mischievousness from some, especially the younger members, and sadness and pensiveness from others, but the whole company giving their all especially in the sequences in the fair, the hop fields, the concert party and the gipsy wedding with singing and movement.
I was interested that Jeremy James Taylor came for a workshop, what an opportunity for the group and, with your unstinting input and effort throughout, how good for the production.
SUE DU PONT – NODA

WORZEL GUMMIDGE – no review

OLIVER!
What do I say to you about the high standard and innovation of the production, these youngsters go from strength to strength in their energy, enthusiasm, research and attention to detail carried through, a credit to you and all your dedicated helpers. The standard of singing was excellent, the precision of movement and grouping gave crisp and changing pictures, the whole presentation an exciting entertainment and enhanced by the talented youth orchestra.
George Crowley as Oliver gave us the true treble voice from the choir, a soul linked to poignancy and mischief of the character, a good contrast to the ebullient, overbearing and fun loving Dodger of Tim Winters. The Bumbles sequence with Daniel Amis and Nadia Boyden was a masterpiece of domesticity and strong singing; and the Funeral Parlour gave great character comedy opportunity to William Barnes in his domination by Emma Yaxley. A new lead in Genevieve Lob as Nancy, the time spent with National Youth Music Theatre this summer paid off; this was a voice to soar through the singing with ease and a mature interpretation of character, style and moods. Strong character and comedy from Eddie Bushell as Fagin, a role for him to savour, good reaction with all those mischievous pickpockets. And Peter Stickney as Bill Sykes was definitely someone to avoid on a dark night.
But as usual with this group, it is the mass of tiny cameo character roles from the company that makes one realise the strength of talent, delighted that all were credited in the programme. The efficiency of each scene change undertaken by the cast, the attention to detail in each scene and character, the ‘knowing exactly where to go and what to do and sing on a specific note’, the tremendous energy of all involved, this makes a visit to NYMT a delightful pleasure and thank you for all your dedication and hard work with the group. So pleased that the week sold out.
SUE DU PONT – NODA

1999 Pendragon, Wizard of Oz
& Sound of Music

1999 – PENDRAGON Pendragon won the NODA ‘Best production award for Eastern Region 5’
I’M ALWAYS drawn to the bad uns; their malign cruelty and imperious nature. Now, I’m sure my doctor would have something to say about that, but before I get in too deep, I’d better say how the Norfolk Youth Music Theatre really cast its spell over me at Norwich Playhouse last night. Pendragon is an atmospheric and strongly performed tale of the Dark Ages when King Arthur and his knights ruled the roost. And the well-drilled cast works wonders to get its. message across with richly evocative modern music and song, getting right under the skin of their roles and inventive choreography and lighting, especially when the stage is bathed in blood-red for battle scenes.
Throw in some shadow theatre, slapstick with Excalibur in the rock and mime and you’ve got everything covered.
Joseph Crowley makes a noble King Arthur and has a charming wife in Laura Wales’s prettily sung Princess Guinivere. There is also strong support from Eddie Bushell’s wise Merlin and Alice Brown’s Lady of the Lake, with her Pre-Raphaelite looks.
But, for really wicked performances of these young actors, aged between 10 and 20, look no further than the young Morgan Le Fay of Harriet Ter -Berg and the: woman she grew into, as portrayed by Genevieve Lob. The latter is a very powerful presence with a great voice, but you can also see. through to where her mind is working overtime to spin her web of evil. Most impressive.
Pendragon continues at Norwich Playhouse until Saturday.
TREVOR TUBBY Evening News

THE WIZARD OF OZ
The Norfolk Youth Music Theatre is currently staging new adaptation of The Wizard of Oz in Several outdoor venues in Norfolk throughout July. The first of seven performances took place in the idyllic grounds of Rainthorpe Hall. Near Tasburgh.
This version features all the familiar characters backed by a catchy and imaginative score written by Jim Barrie and Jane Eiller and played by 18-year old Charlie Caine.
As Dorothy, dressed in black and white was blown into the land of her dreams the eye feasted on scene after scene of dancing cacti, flowers, trees and bushes, all beautifully choreographed by Ruth Martin.
Mention must be given to Stephanie Farrell’s Dorothy, beautifully played with excellent singing and dancing. Her friends, Scarecrow, Josh Lincoln, Tin Man, Sam Filgate and the cowardly Lion, Sam Leegood. all gave professional performances, combining humour with pathos. Nadia Boydon gave us a wonderfully glamorous Glinda and George Sargent a hilarious diminutive Wizard. Rebecca Taylor combined a delicious mixture of humour and malice to create the Wicked Witch melting in her swirling human cauldron with great panache.
Juliet Sargent’s inventive direction brought out a totally focused and committed performance from each and every cast member, despite a few technical hic-cups with the radio microphones. Don’t miss this one! The children will love it!
Sheila Eve

The SOUND OF MUSIC
IT IS hoped the air will be alive with the sound of cheering when the cast of the Norfolk Youth Music Theatre take to the stage in Norwich.
Members of the company were elated when director Adrian Connell announced their latest performance would be The Sound of Music.
Mr Connell decided to make the popular musical the company’s main production this year following the sell-out success of Oliver last year.
It was standing room only at the Maddermarket Theatre in the city when the company of 11 to 19-year-olds gave Lionel Bart’s masterpiece an airing. “This is our fifth year as a company,” said Mr Connell. “Every year I am amazed at the talented young people who turn up for the casting sessions, not only to appear on the stage, but the musicians, and everyone else who works towards making the production a success.”
For leading lady Laura Wales it was the opportunity to fulfil her dream to be a Julie Andrews sound-alike.
The 19-year-old trainee accountant has been a leading light of the company for some time. She took the leading role of Cathy when they produced Whistle Down the Wind in 1996.
The show, based on the adventures of the Van Trapp family, features many long- time favourites including The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music and My Favourite Things.
Eddie Bushell, 19, from Norwich plays the part of the pompous Captain Van Trapp.
EDP – SUZANNE JOYCE

2000 -Whistle Down the Wind,
Bugsy Malone & Into the Woods

WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND by Richard Taylor
WHISTLE Down the Wind is the powerful story of a group of children who befriend an escaped convict, mistakenly thinking him to be Jesus. Richard Taylor’s musical setting adds an extra dimension to the original novel, while Adrian Connell’s Norfolk Youth Music Theatre production brings out the best of that dimension.
There is music here, the harmonies and rhythms of which would test the most astute of adult choruses. Yet children barely in their teens not only cope with the lyrics and tunes but manage admirably to put across intense emotions in the most sympathetic and understanding way.
From the darkened stage of the prqlogue to the final scene inside the barn, you will be thrilled by this exhilarating presentation.
Acting, stage presence, confidence without arrogance and sheer likeabilitity of a talented and clearly hard- working cast, rank highly on my list of praiseworthy features.
KEN HULME – EDP

BUGSY MALONE
Well another success story for Norfolk Youth Music Theatre with Bugsy Malone. What a ‘fun’ time for all participants with the chases and gun battles and the messy fights.
In the title role Bart Edwards showed panache in his smooth and relaxed approach plus that strong confidence in vocal, definitely a leader and able to extricate himself from all situations. The two women in his life well characterised in their differing attributes: Hannah Davidson as Blousey looked downtrodden but the spark of adventure fired up with energy as she achieved her aim with determination and the singing was strong and well done, and, as Tallulah, Rebecca Taylor pouted her way sexily through the nightclub scenes, looked sultry and sang with the style of an experienced entertainer, excellent tone and voice production for the role and with personality plus. Someone definitely to watch and hear in the Fizzy of Shanti Bingham, the maturity and timbre of voice, attack and smoothness all in one breath, and with all the feeling required for tomorrow.
Another ‘new’ face in Sian Davis-Home as Louella, and worth watching along with the perkiness of the delightful Babyface Katy Maxwell. As leaders of the gangs Toby Meek (Fat Sam) and Samuel Warner (Dandy Dan) exploited their power, plots and devilry, nasty devious underhand types, and well delivered dialogue. A laugh at incompetence from Josh Lincoln and George Crowley as the Cops. The men in both gangs sang and moved and fired those messy guns with enthusiasm. the girls sang and danced in the nightclub, and all those many tiny cameo roles were pushed hard and enjoyed by all.
An excellent band under your direction, set and costumes well researched for period, a high standard throughout and just the weather letting you down.
SUE DUPONT – NODA

INTO THE WOODS
Last year, Norfolk YMT were National Operatic Association Eastern region award winners and last night they were at their most ambitious in Sondheim and Lapine’s complicated amalgam of fairytales. With direction of the cast and musicians by Adrian Connell they reached a zenith.
If a sub-title were needed for this entertaining show it might be ‘Cinrajacred’ as the quartet of tales became entwined not only by Jack’s beanstalk. Most of the time the diction is exemplary whether spoken or sung, and the spotlight falls particularly on Anna Watson as Cinderella, presenting a real vocal ‘musical’ presence, and Amy Glover (the Witch) with easily the most impressive delivery and timing.
Dugald Ferguson Cinderella’s prince is a precocious caricature, and Josh Lincoln (Rapunzel’s prince) is the perfect foil with Rapunzel herself (Rebecca Taylor) showing experience with a performance beyond her years. These youngsters should be more than happy with their performances. It’s worth seeing for yourself as the stories continue until Saturday.
Michael Drake – EDP