Viva Youth Theatre
The Viva Youth Theatre, now in its 15th year, was the catalyst for the whole Viva Arts and Community Group. It is the brainchild of Dan Schumann from Soham, back then a 16-year-old drama student who went on to study at The Central School of Speech and Drama in London.
Having been inspired by theatre himself Dan felt there was the need for more opportunities for people to take part in the arts, regardless of their situation, abilities or circumstances – and so started Viva to give more people that chance.
From a small production of ‘Bugsy Malone’, staged in Soham Village College back in 1997, with a cast and crew of just 50, Viva has grown now tackling huge productions such as ‘Les Miserables’, performed in 2009 at the Mumford Theatre in Cambridge to an audience of 1200, and ‘West Side Story’, Viva’s most ambitious project yet, which played to audiences in the hundreds at Ely Cathedral in January 2011.
The Viva Youth Group were lucky enough to perform ‘Fame’ this year at the Playgroup Theatre in New York City! Yes the BIG APPLE! The group worked with professional choreographers, voice and acting coaches to help polish and shape the musical before taking to the broadway stage! Viva is always finding new ways to push their members and flying to New York City was a once in a life time opportunity that could not be missed!
The Youth Theatre welcomes young people from age 11 to 25 from Soham and the surrounding area. Theatre experience is not necessary, just commitment and drive to put on a great show. It aims to encourage young people in all areas of theatre – not just on stage but in set and costume design, lighting and sound, choreography and direction.
Viva usually auditions for two or three productions a year.
The show open to the entire youth theatre age range is generally staged in January. Past shows have included: ‘Oliver’, ‘Me And My Girl’, ‘Barnum’, ‘Calamity Jane’ and ‘Thoroughly Modern Milly’.
In July the Viva Youth Theatre stages a junior show aimed at garnering the talent of younger members aged 11 to 16. Former productions include: ‘Annie’, ‘The Wiz’ and Disney’s ‘Aladdin’. Youth Theatre members aged 16 and over have also taken seven productions including ‘Fame’ (2005), ‘Blood Brothers’ (2007) and ‘Godspell’ (2010) to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – to much critical acclaim.
Students of the youth theatre have been lucky enough to benefit from training and master classes from some of the West End’s finest actors, directors and choreographers so it’s no surprise a Viva Youth Theatre Show is a show of the highest quality.
- Bugsy Malone – 1997
- A Night at the West End – 1998
- Annie – 1999
- Wizard of Oz – 2000
- Thumbelina – 2001
- Little Shop of Horrors – 2001
- Me and My Girl – 2002
- Gold – 2002
- Jabberwocky – 2002
- Return to the Forbidden Planet – 2003
- Myths and Models – 2003
- A Slice of Saturday Night – 2003
- Oliver – 2004
- Guys and Dolls- 2005
- The Sound of Music – 2005
- Barnum & Aladdin – 2006
- Thoroughly Modern Millie & The Wiz – 2007
- Calamity Jane & Annie - 2008
- Les Miserables & Gypsy – 2009
- Disney’s Beauty and the Beast – 2010
- West Side Story – 2011
- High School Musical – 2011
- Smike the Musical – 2012
- Fame – 2012 New York
- Edinburgh Fringe shows:
- Fame – 2005 FRINGE AWARD WINNER
- Back to the 80’s – 2006
- Little Shop of Horrors and Blood Brothers – 2007 FRINGE AWARD WINNER
- A Slice of Saturday Night – 2008 FRINGE AWARD WINNER
- Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story – 2009 FRINGE AWARD WINNER
- Godspell – 2010
- I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change – 2011
West Side Story – Ely Cathedral – 2011
Despite the seasonal chill of the Cathedral, the unique venue contributed a great deal to this exciting production. The large performing space created underneath the Lantern, supporting simple scaffolding, provided a very versatile stage with a variety of access points and several different acting levels. The acoustics enhanced both the quality of the music and the voices of the performers. The strongest challenge of this show is usually getting the choreography right and, in particular, finding and developing sufficient dancing ability within the male gang members. In this Viva were particularly fortunate and, again, the size of the stage helped. The choreographed movements were simple but very effective and the enthusiastic company all performed them with complete confidence. I liked the use of individual soloists for the ‘Somewhere’ sequence and the way in which the large company and different levels were used throughout the whole presentation.
There were some strong individual performances and this was especially the case within the two gangs where the different personalities were well expressed and complemented each other perfectly. Ben Clark as Bernardo, Lee Sherwood as Action, Mikey Kowalczyk as A-rab, Ryan Hutten as Baby John and Simon Jones as Pepe all impressed. Duncan Earlan was also quietly effective in the difficult role of Chino. David Tickner brought a useful gravitas to the role of Doc.
As Riff, Simon Thompson produced a very sympathetic interpretation and acted, sang and danced with great strength and ability. This was a very memorable performance. Similarly, Emily Norman was a perfect choice for Anita. She sang and danced beautifully and extracted a great deal of emotion out of the part.
In the important central roles of Tony and Maria, Matt Johnson and Shellie Baigent made an attractive romantic couple and coped well with the tremendous demands on these characters, both physically and emotionally. Shellie, in particular, displayed a lovely singing voice and both soon established a strong rapport with the audience. However, the strongest overall impression of this production would have to be the teamwork, total commitment and sheer energy of all the young performers which all combined to produce a show of considerable quality.
- Michael G Williamson
NODA Regional Representative : District 1
Smike the Musical - The Brook, Soham – 2012
I must admit to being very excited to be reviewing a production of Smike, a musical very well-known to me. Having been first captivated by the BBC1 production in the ‘70’s starring the formidable Beryl Reid as Mrs Squeers. Since then I have been privileged to direct three productions of this wonderful show, one in Peterborough and two at the Kings Theatre in Newmarket.
Based on the original story by Charles Dickens of Nicholas Nickleby, Simon and Roger succeeded in giving the subject matter a very modern feel, enhanced by some incredible musical mixtures of rock, pop and ballads.
The Soham audience were not to be disappointed, as this proved to be a fresh production which would have made the authors very proud. As the lights went down on the Overture we were greeted by a superb black and white, symbolic set which created just the right backdrop for the numerous different locations. From the modern schoolroom, Victorian public house, Yorkshire moors and, ultimately, the bleak Victorian boarding school Dotheboys Hall. Added to the ambience of the settings were the dreary Victorian costumes. Just right and well done.
Since the formation of Viva, the company has continued to grow; from the highly skilled production, technical and musical team right through to the last member of this talented cast of principals and chorus. There were many outstanding performances; in particular, Ben Clark with his portrayal of Nicholas Nickleby. His acting performance as the educated, sympathetic school master was only surpassed by his superb singing voice. Tilly Lewis as Smike worked really hard with some beautiful singing and will long be remembered for her rendition of the ballad Brand New Day. Unfortunately, using a mature young lady in the title role did lose the ‘Ah’ factor! Mollie Shaw as Mrs Squeers was able to create just the right element of fear from the pupils contrasting strongly with the love for her own children and her hateful husband Mr Squeers. Lee Sherwood also made the character of Mr Squeers his own, although his tendency to pantomime the role for the laughs, for me spoiled what was, in every other way, a great performance. The Squeers family was complimented by two actors who really understood their characters of Fanny played by Alice Turner and Wackford played by Adam Hebbard. What a shame the props department had not provided Wackford with a constant and necessary supply of food to emphasise the contrast between the gluttonous Squeers family and the poverty stricken, starving pupils.
The rest of the cast was made up with many talented and mostly young people playing a variety of cameo roles and well done to everyone for maintaining the period of the piece.
One minor gripe which did detract from this outstanding production, and which was voiced by members of the audience sitting around me, was the difficulty to hear words from the cast as they were drowned out by the great sounding orchestra! The right balance is so important.
Having said that, a great evening’s entertainment and thank you for inviting me.
Wallace Wareham – NODA
- Seven Edinburgh Fringe Awards
- Cambridge Evening News Community Award
- High Sherriff’s Award
Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service