GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS PAST – 7. Oliver!

Here we have no.7 in my series of GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS PAST, with Oliver! at the New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme – Christmas 2006.

At the time, this was the most successful Christmas show the New Vic had ever seen, and it remains one of the shows that I am most proud to have been involved with.

Personal highlights:

> The pure joy of Lionel Bart’s fantastic score. What a fantastic collection of songs, that still stand the test of time some 60 years after they were written – not to mention the sublime orchestrations by Bill Brohn (and the orchestrations for the film by Eric Rogers).

> Working with another fantastic production team: Chris Monks – Director, Lis Evans – Designer, Bev Edmunds – Choreographer, Kate Waters – Fight Director, James Earls-Davis – Sound Designer & Daniella Beattie – Lighting Designer.

> A multi-talented company of Actors (many of whom doubled as musicians) and Musicians, which included Graeme Dalling, Sarah Groarke, Clare Humphrey, Becci Jackson, John Killoran, Conrad Nelson, Jennifer Rhodes, Kraig Thornber, Colin Wakefield, Steve Cooper, Simon Murray and Judith Hood.

> The death of Bill Sykes. This was a stunning moment when John Killoran, playing Sikes, had climbed up to the grid above the stage – he was then shot by one of the Policemen down on stage level, and left dangling high above the New Vic stage. It was a triumph of design, staging and more than a little bravery on the part of John!

> working with a very talented collection of local children in the cast. They were all cast from open auditions, and several of them have gone on to work professionally – including Fran Mills, Jessica Joslin, Elliot Clay and Joe Sterling.

> Managing to get a mention in a National Newspaper! (It’s very rare that music gets a mention in a Theatre review – good or bad!): “Richard Atkinson’s reduction reveals Bart’s score to be far more subtle than is generally supposed. You begin to notice the gradual darkening of the harmonic palette, with Nancy’s jaunty, cockney jig, It’s a Fine Life, reprised as a sardonic, almost Kurt Weill-ish cabaret song”. Alfred Hickling gave us 4 stars too: https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2006/nov/30/theatre1

Favourite Theatrical Anecdote:

The Pitch!

For those who don’t know, the New Vic Theatre is a 600 seat purpose built Theatre in the Round in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire. In terms of venue, and budget, it was never going to be a huge proscenium arch spectacle that is the usual approach. Chris Monks therefore came up with an ingenious way to present the show: At the end of the film of OLIVER!, Fagin dances off into the sunset, singing a reprise of “Reviewing the situation” (Unlike in the original novel when Fagin meets his end on the gallows). Chris speculated as to what Fagin did next – and decided that he became a sort of actor-manager figure, and took his company around Victorian pubs, telling the tale of “Oliver Twist”. this meant that the show could be set in a Victorian Pub – and the actors could easily change costumes to play different characters, and pick up instruments to help with the musical accompaniment.

The sticking point to all of this was that the rights to OLIVER! worldwide are held by Cameron Mackintosh – so without his permission, the show would not be possible.

So it was that Chris Monks and I had to head off to London and pitch the idea. We entered the building on Bedford Square where the Cameron Macintosh offices are, and were led through the marble columned entrance hall, and shown into the office of Chris Grady, the Head of Licensing. In the manner of Oliver Twist holding out his bowl to ask for more gruel, Chris and I laid down the ideas for the show, and fortunately we were given the go ahead. That just left Nick Jones – General Manager at the New Vic – to negotiate royalties / merchandise deals etc, and we were on!

I don’t actually have any photos of this company or the show, so I’m hoping a few may turn up along with other people’s anecdotes and memories either in the box below, or on the posts on Twitter & Facebook.

This is a very difficult time for those working in the Entertainment Industry, and for theatres, so if you are in a position where you can help out in any way, here are the links to the MU and Equity hardship funds, and to the New Vic’s support page:

Musicians Union Coronavirus Hardship Fund: https://musiciansunion.org.uk/Donate

Equity Benevolent Fund: https://www.equity.org.uk/about/benevolent-fund-subscriptions-solidarity/how-to-donate-to-the-benevolent-fund/

New Vic Theatre Support Us page: https://www.newvictheatre.org.uk/support-us/

You can also read about all the other GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS PAST in the series on the dedicated page here: https://richardatkinson.org/ghosts-of-christmas-past/

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