Reviews 2006 – 2010

REVIEWS

2006 THE SOUND OF MUSIC – NORWICH PLAYHOUSE

The love story of Maria, a young novice nun, and a widowed Naval Captain with seven children is well known. But this is a refreshing production with actors like 25-year-old Josh Lincoln portraying the much older captain Von Trapp. His confident voice and stage presence made him an audience favourite.

Equally Anna Watson is a delightful Maria; full of young innocence, but with a steely spirit. Josh and Anna make an effective partnership, particularly in their duet numbers.

Harriet Birchall gives a wonderful performance as Mother Abbess – her strong, confident voice filling the auditorium. Her major musical number Climb Every Mountain drew appreciative applause. The seven children are delightfully well cast and rehearsed and soon win a place in the hearts of the audience. Their puppet scene was particularly effective.

NYMT director Adrian Connell always strives to get the best from his young cast and at yesterday’s opening night they didn’t let him down. Effective musical backing is provided throughout. Supporting elements – including effective lighting, minimalist sets and swift scene changes – all combined to produce –a show that sparkled from start to finish.
Richard Parr EDP

2006 OLIVER! – MADDERMARKET THEATRE, NORWICH & KING’S LYNN CORN EXCHANGE

A SPARKLING PRODUCTION OF OLIVER!

Enthusiasm, energy and endless talent were to the fore in a sparkling new production by this acclaimed theatre group.

The intimate atmosphere of the city’s historic Maddermarket Theatre lent itself admirably to the staging of this show which was a triumph for principals, chorus and orchestra.

In a fast-paced show, the dramatic action never faltered and there were some delightful chorus sequences in which the well-rehearsed youngsters danced and sang their hearts out.

Some scenes, notably the workhouse dining hall, thieves kitchen and the Three Cripples pub, were like moving tableaux of Victorian life.

Ten year old Fraser Davidson gave an excellent performance as the orphan boy who finds himself caught up in the darker side of Victorian London. His main solo number, Where is Love, was full of plaintive emotion.

There were so many highlights on Wednesday’s first night but Stephanie Moore gave a remarkable performance of Nancy, the tart with a heart, which belied her 19 years.

Equally impressive was 18-year-old Ben Weston as the fiendish Fagin. Ben worked hard to create everyone’s .idea of the elderly old rogue. Harriet Birchall was a delightful Widow Corney and her comic routines with Joe Ringer as Mr Bumble were a hoot, particularly in I Shall Scream.

Another well-drawn comic partner- ship was that of Lawrence Guymer as Mr Sowerberry the undertaker and his wife, a wonderful performance by Rachel Killington.

NYMT founder and Oliver! Director and set designer Adrian Connell deserves congratulations for such a high-quality show and for helping to develop the theatrical talents of so many Norfolk youngsters. Richard Parr EDP.

Reviews

2007 Whistle Down the Wind

For their 39th production, The Norfolk Youth Music Theatre, so ably directed over many years by Adrian Connell, have chosen the heart-warming Whistle Down The Wind, based on the novel by Mary Hayley Bell.
It’s a marvellous story in which three children find a dangerous convict in their barn and come to believe he is Jesus.
There is a large cast which often fills the Playhouse stage, an eight-piece orchestra which manages to contain itself and not overwhelm the younger children, and a pleasingly effective set.

But what stands out primarily is the total confidence of the acting. No fluffed lines, no hesitant movements, no missed cues. Brilliant.
It’s not an easy show to Stage. There are scenes calling for very sympathetic understanding, others where rapid interplay between characters is essential to keep the story moving. The youngsters take it all in their stride.
They’re also good in the songs. Some of the harmonies would test practised adults, yet the soloists cope admirably. And they make a good stab at the Lancashire accents, maintaining them throughout.

There are sterling performances from Anna Younger, Katrina Porter and Jamie Minns as the Bostock children and some very pleasing work from the other named parts.

This is without doubt a highly talented company. Not surprising, then, that they received prolonged applause at the conclusion.
KEN HULME Evening News

THE LITTLE SWEEP – AUGUSTINE’S VENUE
BRINGING together two of Benjamin Britten’s chief preoccupations, the ill- treatment of children and their musical education, this adaptation of The Little Sweep by The Norfolk Youth Mt1Sic Theatre is a charming introduction to the conventions and appeal of opera.
In this simple morality tale, Sam (Sam Miller) escapes his brutal sweep masters and is taken in, hidden and protected by the children of Iken Hall, beginning what is essentially an extended game of hide and seek, with the cast singing their lines with confidence and aplomb.
Anna Lawrence’s generous direction encourages a feeling of spectacle, but also a sense of engagement for the audience, consistently and humorously reminding them when they would have been required to sing in the original production.
A young plant in the crowd espouses what might be their initial reservations, yet these are quickly swept aside as the Brooks sisters and their cousins, the Cromes, cheerfully embrace the little ragamuffin in their chimney flume.
The gulf in privilege between Sam and his new friends is all but ignored, but the historical conditions for his employment are not and should provoke empathy in children.
JAY RICHARDSON – THE SCOTSMAN Fri. 10th August 2007

THE ENCHANTED LOVERS – AUGUSTINE’S VENUE
Norfolk Youth Music Theatre – Augustine’s Venue An excellent performance of Howard Goodall’s version of Dido and Aeneas **** Alan Chorley, Broadway Baby
This is a cut-down, updated version of Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas, created by Howard Goodall in 1986 for the South Bank Show.
Dido is the queen of Carthage and has recently been widowed. Aeneas, a prince of Troy, has stopped briefly in Carthage while on a quest to rebuild Troy in Italy. Dido has fallen in love with him but feels guilty about what she feels is her betrayal of her dead husband. Three evil witches, who hate Dido, see this as a chance to attack and kill her. When Dido and Aeneas go out hunting in the afternoon the witches summon up a storm causing everyone to flee, leaving Dido and Aeneas alone to consummate their love.
While the lovers sleep, one of the witches appears to Aeneas and reminds him that he has made pledges that cannot be broken and he must leave immediately or be cursed by the gods.
Reluctantly, he agrees to leave, calls his soldiers and sailors together and begins reparing the fleet.
When Dido awakes she is distraught to find that Aeneas has apparently left. However, he returns to Dido and offers to renounce the gods and stay. Dido refuses him so he leaves for good, after which Dido commits suicide.
This is a very entertaining production and on the whole very well sung. It is more approachable and shorter than the original version by Purcell, and is a good introduction to opera. There were many children in the audience and they certainly appeared to be enjoying it.
Recommended.

2007 INTO THE WOODS – MADDERMARKET THEATRE 2007
BEWITCHING ADVENTURE – EDP

Those who insist on their fairy tales ending “happily ever after” might want to give Into the Woods a miss. For, while this spirited Norfolk Youth Theatre production of the Sondheim classic packs in more Grimm-inspired adventure than you can shake a beanstalk at, its wry subversion of fairy tale conventions makes it a distinctly modern proposition.

The baker and his wife must throw caution (and principles) to the wind in a quest for Jack the Giant-Killer’s cow, Rapunzel’s hair, Red Riding Hood’s cape and Cinderella’s slipper. With the items secure and royal marriages afoot, all seems rosy. But Mrs Giant starts making inquiries about her husband’s murderer A uniformly strong (and tuneful)cast imbued each character with the requisite fairy tale magic while impressively negotiating the twists and turns of Sondheim’s witty and often intricate lines.

Augusta Urquart’s Little Red Riding Hood tempered the character’s sweetness with a nonchalance – her I Know Things Now a stand-out performance.

As The Witch, Amy Mallett combined a genuinely sinister aspect with a tart swagger reminiscent of Miranda Richardson’s Queeney from Blackadder.

With great songs and compelling performances, this show is bewitching entertainment, and well worth the price of admission – sadly, magic beans are unlikely to be accepted at the box office.
Chris Tracy

Spectacle and drama in King Arthur story Pendragon Norwich Playhouse

For the start of the 14th season of his Norfolk Youth Music Theatre, Adrian Connell takes Pendragon.

It is an excellent choice. A chronicle of the legendary deeds and misfortunes of King Arthur, the musical is full of opportunities for great crowd scenes as well as high points of drama for the main characters, with imaginative spectacle and throbbing music.

The text, credited to no fewer than four authors, speeds from incident to incident. In fact, it does so rather too rapidly. The consequence is a lot of going and coming on the crowded stage. Fortunately the composer, Peter Allwood, is able to create a situation in a couple of bars, and a small musical ensemble under the direction of Benjamin Lee keeps up the pace.

Costumes, lighting and stage effects all help by lending their special magic. The flapping raven is sinister, and the red-eyed dragon even more impressive in its death pangs.

A large cast throws itself into the emotions body and soul. Imaginative groupings are glimpsed through Celtic mists. Arms are linked and bodies sway to create the flight of the great bird carrying the hero. Little Morgan Le Fay and the boy Arthur appear vulnerable while promising greater strengths for the future. In their adult shape these characters have more substance, and Guinevere is a queen who is moving in her distress.
Christopher Smith – EDP

Reviews LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS – Augustine’s EDINBURGH FESTIVAL

Who needs reviews when you can sell out your preview on a warm afternoon with people being turned away? This company of young people returns to the fringe with a tried and tested musical that has become popular with youth musical theatre groups across both sides of the Atlantic.

For the uninitiated, this is no horror show and the plot is based on the acquisition of a blood seeking plant by the young and shy dogsbody in a shop located on skid row in New York. The strange plant becomes a talking point and helps turn the fortunes of Mushnik’s florists until the plant starts to demand several pounds of flesh to help it grow and grow. The sadistic dentist is followed by the shopkeeper until Seymour loses someone even more important to him.

This is a very competent production and at all times you feel that you are in safe hands – the acting is good, the three principals Seymour, Mushnik, and Audrey develop and hold their characters throughout the show. Callum Bicknell was totally convincing as Seymour and drew the audience’s sympathy while Stella Mertz as Audrey holds the peculiar accent like a professional.

The music was very good, the balance with the younger voices helped those without microphones to get through to the back of the theatre. Apart from one late arrival, I think it was a “plant,” this production went like clockwork. The singers had strong voices individually but now that they know they can do this show very competently, they should enjoy themselves and let it rip on the chorus work.
By Claytong – Posted on 04 August 2008

Reviews PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK – MADDERMARKET THEATRE

Is it true? Certainly this lively group gave a great deal of credence to this East Anglian premiere of the musical version of the novel and later film, of the disappearance of a trio of school girls and their teacher at an Australian landmark and supposedly sacred spot known as The Rocks.

Such is the standard of acting, singing and dancing by the young cast, aged between 10 and 19, it would be totally invidious to single any out. Suffice to say that without exception they really do not put a foot, note or action wrong.

Norfolk Youth Music Theatre’s Adrian Connell’s artistic direction aligned to Robert John’s adaptation created by Bob Thomson with Brian Spence’s .music is a most convincing fusion with slick scene changing. There is always impressive singing from the lovely “gels” but it is better when amplified in the solos and speech delivery could be projected more and a little slower.

The dark romance and supernatur¬al mystery of the production is con¬tinually portrayed and the disappear¬ance takes its toll.
Michael Drake – EDP

Reviews PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK – Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich

The Norfolk Youth Music Theatre celebrates its 14th season with Picnic At Hanging Rock.

Adapted by Robert Johns from the novel by loan Lindsay with music and lyrics by Brian Spence, it tells the story of three girls and a teacher from an Australian school who mysteriously disappear while on a picnic outing, It’s an intriguing plot, well performed – as one would expect under Adrian Connell’s direction.

Movement around the stage is brilliant, speedy when it needs to be and, with a cast of over 40, accurate in finding the correct place on a crowded stage when it becomes necessary.

Clearly, much thought has gone into that aspect. Occasionally, faces showed the strain of concentration, but not enough to detract from the overall performance. There was often tunefully sweet singing from individual cast members and lusty, if somewhat raw, singing in the big chorus numbers.

Voices in spoken scenes from time to time lacked projection – one of the failings of young performers. Audibility was not always easy from my seat in the gallery. It may have been better in the stalls.

These are minor criticisms, however, of what is a solid production performed with enthusiasm and determination. There is much acting and musical potential on display and I look forward to seeing some of these youngsters in other arenas in due course.
KEN HULME

THE SECRET GARDEN Youngsters’ stunning performance is just what we have come to expect

MIKE DRAKE – AT THE THEATRE

Norfolk Youth Music Theatre, Norwich Playhouse

They’ve done it again – but that has become the norm for this award winning company – as the short run Of this magical and well loved story allied to Lucy Simon’s testing music, opened last night.

It is a magical show and it is hard to believe that the cast are (nearly all) only teenagers. In fact the main role of the spoiled and orphaned Mary Lennox will only achieve that landmark at her next birthday but Ellie Hichcock-Wyatt has such stage confidence, both vocal and in movement, as to belie her years.

What a prospect. Her new friend Dickon (Ed Bartrum), the Yorkshire country boy who metaphorically unlocks the secret garden, has a maturity too, and this is probably the overriding feature of all the young rising stars.

Sometimes the splendid orchestra is a shade too loud, nevertheless Uncle Archibald (Callum Bicknell) is always sensitive and is the tenor half of an outstanding duet with his impressive baritone brother Dr Craven (John Mcinnes). And Martha (Eloise Hare) is a fine Yorkshire lass to boot. And so the garden with “the dead wood cut away” reveals its healing powers. But there is no dead wood in this show in which the singing and dancing ensembles play colourful and disciplined parts as well.

The performances continue for the rest of this week.

Reviews

THE RAGGED CHILD

Another richly richly rewarding production by youth group

Education – not only a treatment for contemporary ills but in the mid 19th century a way of moving from working class gutter poverty to the teaching of rudimentary social skills. Benefactors set up the Ragged Schools of London before Lord Shaftesbury brought them together under the Ragged School Union.

This latest musical theatre offering from the present members of NYMT concentrates on the story of just two of those destitute children in Taylor and Whately’s drama with Karen Stangham’s small orchestra adding much atmosphere to Adrian Connell’s fine production.

When this enterprising group first performed it in 19961 said they were “completely convincing… in a slick, ever-moving production” and consistently nothing has changed in the current show. There are periods when the band was a little too loud, voices did not project due to delivery speed or being directed upstage but there was always movement and interest – especially clever in the ensembles. Tragedies unfolded as Lord Shaftesbury’s son and Joe’s sister both die. Is Joe a thief? London’s cholera saves him from deportation and he emigrates to Australia for a new life but with a cruel twist.

It’s all a bloomin’ shame, but there are few weak moments from a talented cast who obviously enjoy it all themselves. Michael Drake

ANNIE – REVIEW Show had cream of young talent

What a talented bunch of youngsters we have here in Norfolk. The cream of the area’s song and dance stars . took part in Annie, that charming tale about a little orphan girl in 1930s New York who got lucky when a billionaire came calling.
It’s a great choice for any young person’s group as there are plenty of strong roles for rising stars, some lovely songs – and a decent storyline which you don’t always get with a musical!
Anna Davey, who has an uncanny resemblance to the classic image of Annie, took the lead role with a maturity beyond her 11 years and really held the piece together. Her version of Tomorrow was very special.
Callum Bicknell, a company veteran with nine previous shows under his belt, was a fabulous Daddy Warbucks. What a voice! And Emma Goodwin played an eccentric rather than sinister Miss Hannigan to great effect.
But it was an all-round effort, with great costumes, careful staging, and good orchestration. The company provides local children between eight and 18 with a great chance to perform at a professional theatre and they certainly rise to the challenge.
Congratulations to their artistic director Adrian Connell and look out for their autumnal show, the Vackees.
Sarah Hardy EDP

THE SECRET GARDEN – Augustine’s , Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Rating: 4STARS, Reviewed by Alan Chorley, August 17, 2010

Norfolk Youth Music Theatre has a history of successful Fringe productions, including The Enchanted Lovers – A New Dido, based on Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas and Little Shop Of Horrors. This year they’ve brought the musical version of the classic childrens story, The Secret Garden.
The story is set at the beginning of the 20th century. Mary Lennox, an eleven year old British girl living in India, is suddenly orphaned by a cholera outbreak. She is sent to England, to live with her brooding uncle Archibald in Yorkshire. Mary is an unpleasant child, used to having servants and initially annoying all her uncle’s staff. She is befriended by Martha, one of the maids, and then Martha’s brother Dickon, who knows everything about gardens and animals. Mary gradually learns about plants from Dickon and, thanks to a helpful Robin, finds her way into a secret garden, which has been locked up since the death of Archibald’s wife, whose garden it was.
The garden appears to be completely dead but, with Dickon’s help, Mary is determined to bring it back to life. Mary has been told that there are no other children living in the house, but hears crying at night. Eventually, she discovers that Archibald has a son, Colin, who has been bedridden since birth. She encourages him to go outside into the secret garden, where his health recovers as the garden is brought back to life.
The story in the musical is slightly altered, mainly to give more emphasis to the adult characters. The book is mainly concerned with the relationship between Mary and Colin and, to a much lesser extent, Martha and Dickon. In this production, Colin’s doctor, who seems to be largely responsible for keeping him bedridden, is Archibald’s younger brother Neville, who stands to inherit the estate if Colin dies. This enables additional scenes to be created between Neville and Archibald and between Neville and Mary.
The performances in this production, both acting and singing, are uniformly good, particularly given the age of the performers. Callum Bicknell, as Archibald Craven, and Emily Stanghan as his wife, Lily, are excellent, and they are both only sixteen years old.
The orchestra is also extremely good. Yet another success for Norfolk Youth Music Theatre.

Rating: 4 1/2 STARS,Reviewed by Lee Zhuo Zhao, Thursday, 12 August 2010

The Secret Garden, a popular children’s story by Frances Hodgson Burnett, was first published in 1911 – and is firmly steeped in the innocence of England before the First World War. And when a company like the Norfolk Youth Music Theatre, consisting of actors and actresses all under the age of 18, stage a musical production of such a classic story, it would be easy to assume it’s just a dressed-up school play. But, oh, how wrong that would be!
Indeed, you should never underestimate the maturity teenagers can bring to a stage. The quality of acting and singing on display here is outstanding, far beyond the expectations set by the cast’s years, and puts many student and adult productions here on the Fringe to shame. If they had decided – to quote Educating RitA – to “do it on the radio”, I swear I would have thought everyone involved (with the obvious exception of the boy treble) were in their twenties.
The plot concerns a girl, Mary Lennox, forced by her mother’s death to relocate from colonial India to her uncle’s country house in Yorkshire. And in my opinion, the undisputed star is thirteen-year-old Ellie Hitchcock-Wyatt, who plays Mary. She is a revelation: composed and mature throughout, she brings across every little subtlety of her character with some excellent delivery. And the added bonus, she’s got a decent singing voice!
Vocally though, the stars were Callum Bicknell and Emily Stanghan, playing Mary’s uncle and his wife respectively. They are in their own show Poperatically SpeakinG – also on the Fringe – and it’s clear why they were entrusted with the big songs in this musical. Although Emily was not given a lot to do acting-wise (her character is just an idealised vision throughout) this suited her beautifully lyrical voice perfectly. When she sings her solo in the spotlight, it’s as close to angelic as you might ever get.
With a host of strong supporting performances and not one weak link in the acting or singing – wayward Yorkshire accents aside – it was really disappointing that these talented teenagers were let down by what should be the basics. The orchestra was rough around the edges, especially in terms of intonation. There were some clumsy scene changes too, leaving stage hands moving the set in full light whilst a scene was still happening in the foreground, and the chorus scenes were overly busy thanks to the sheer number of people the director had worked in.
But these things cannot take too much away from what’s a real hidden gem on the Fringe. You’re going to have to hurry, though: they’re only doing a week of shows.

Rating: 3 STARS, Reviewed by Gordon Clayton – August 2010

The Secret Garden is an oasis of tranquillity from the raucous side of the fringe in terms of it’s music, if not in the complicated family relationships of the plot itself.
The show is based on an Edwardian children’s story by Frances Hodgson Burnett and it’s a book that those who have read it will no doubt remember fondly. It’s about a girl called Mary, played excellently by Ellie Hitchcock-Wyatt. Mary is a pampered colonial girl living in India when her family die of cholera. She is then transported to Yorkshire where she is collected by her uncle’s housekeeper.
The little girl is informed that her uncle will not have anything to do with her as he has been mourning the loss of his wife for an extended period. The dark side of the plot is that the uncle’s brother Dr. Neville lives in the house supposedly caring for a sick nephew, Colin, who is bed-ridden and kept out of sight.
When Mary discovers her cousin by accident, the housekeeper and the not-so-good doctor dismiss her from the room while the doctor plots to send Mary off to school. The uncle has a spine deformity and has been told that he has passed on the condition to his son.
To find out how things work out and where the Secret Garden comes in then you need to join the excellent young cast of Norfolk Youth Theatre. There is a lot of music in this show and while the numbers carry the story, they are difficult to sing with only a few being what you might call catchy.
The director uses the limited space well with a lot of movement and groupings to make the most of the larger numbers. The acting is also of a high standard with credible interaction between the players whether in tender poignant places or where anger is required.
The absence of microphones is a bit of a handicap to some of these young performers in a hall with a high ceiling. There is a need to project their voices more so that the audience catch all the words. Exceptions to this are Eloise Hare, who plays Martha the maid that befriends Mary, and Alex Green who plays the devious doctor.
The pace of the piece is by nature slow, so full credit to the young cast and their production staff for holding the attention of their audience throughout. For once, this is a show for all ages.

THE VACKEES _ Wartime tale sends a shiver down the spine REVIEW Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich

Never short of ambition, Norfolk Youth Music Theatre presents The Vackees.
With a score by Carl David and a rather episodic text by Hiawyn Oram, the musical takes as its theme the evacuation of London children at the start of the second world war and then pursues the story through the next few years.
Fears that the capital would immediately be flattened by the Luftwaffe sent trains packed with children all over the realm. Here we see one group of them as they arrive in a village, confused and flustered, with battered attache cases and bruised personalities.
Social differences cause endless difficulties, for the adults as well as the children, and there are conflicts, as attitudes stiffen and fists fly.
Most persuasive in the song and dance movements, with good solos and fine group action and a fine small band adding support, the show is presented by scores of young people who enter into the spirit of things.
The sound of the siren still sends shivers down the spine of some of the older members of the audience.
CHRISTOPHER SMITH