Put simply, the script of ‘Olivia’ – which Genesis Youth Theatre presents this week at Wellington Arts’ Centre – offers this young company ideal opportunities to perform, sing, dance and enjoy the whole process of bringing a production to the stage for audiences to share. And this they do with bags of energy and enthusiasm – and an impressive range of capabilities.
Writer Malcolm Sircom takes the basic story of Oliver Twist, adds a female lead, throws in a few stray Dickensian characters, a bit of Pygmalion, a dash of Conan Doyle, dollops of good-hearted humour, a healthy sprinkling of songs and dance – and invites the company to make the ingredients rise to the occasion.
Under the skilful tutelage of Director John Walker and his experienced team of Wellington Arts Association regulars these young performers present a jolly drama in which ill-fortune is transcended with the help of a few unlikely meetings and more than a little determination. The direction gives the piece and the company the necessary discipline as well as adding lots of detail – physical and vocal – to performances. The result is pacy, smooth and engaging. Mary Lewis has fashioned dance routines that are varied, lively and, being within the range of the young players’ skills, executed finely – and confidently too. Voice coach Jo Buck has shaped the show’s many songs (some of them quite complex) and encouraged musical performances from both individuals and the whole ensemble which is impressive.
The rest of the production team – set design, lighting, sound, costume, stage management – have all added their time, knowledge and skills to the piece and deserve much praise for helping to shape a piece of theatre that flows easily, looks colourful and pleasing and delivers entertainment. It also provides the cast with insight into all the many elements that make performances work – one of the main purposes of youth theatre.
It would seem unjust to highlight particular performances as all of the cast – all under the age of 16 – add their own talents to the whole show. Confidence derived from the positive feedback of a live audience on the first night suggests that, by the end of the run this week, the show is going to be starry indeed. There is a lot of talent in this young company and, whilst there are skills still to be learned in diction, shaping dialogue, timing, creating character physically, all of them will have gained considerably from being part of this production, not least in confidence. And there can be few young men of Matthew Ellis’s age who would wear Fagin’s fright wig and mangy fur with such panache in front of an audience.
Genesis offers performance training for young people who may move on to WAA senior companies, stage schools and, in some cases, the professional stage. It also offers them the opportunity to experience the way successful teams are built – and ‘Olivia’ has undoubtedly offered them that!
Audiences will enjoy this show and recognise the standards achieved by the whole team.
Performances on Thursday, Friday and Saturday 23, 24, 25 June at 7.30pm and on Saturday 25 June at 2.30pm. Tickets (£5) from E J Teare’s newsagents in South Street.