Review of Viva Youth Theatre’s production of Godspell

Everybody knows about the Edinburgh Fringe but not everybody knows about Soham’s Viva Youth Theatre (yet). However, countrywide, even worldwide, fame is surely not long in coming for this remarkable company. Already Viva Youth Theatre has been given one of the choicest venues to perform ‘Godspell’ at the Edinburgh Fringe from 7-14th August this year and rightly so, too.

This amazing group is definitely ready to perform in the prestigious ‘C Plaza in George Square. Viva Youth Theatre shared their production of ‘Godspell’ with packed audiences of local enthusiasts at the Brook in Soham last week.

It was fantastic! There is no other word to describe it. The hall pulsated with a constant kaleidoscope of vibrant activity and sound. A mass of vivid and imaginative movements, singing of the highest quality, and convincing acting mesmerized the audience. The whole range of emotions was explored, from exuberant joy to the depths of despair. Nothing was left untouched. One moment we were laughing at the antics of a bunch of mischievous school children, the next we were feeling the pain of betrayal and a tortuous death. One moment we had to stop ourselves from leaping onto the stage and joining in the party of the century, the next we were frozen in time as their beautiful voices soothed the spirit in moments of deep reflection.

Once the haunting strains of ‘Prepare ye the Way of the Lord’ announced a unique and uninhibited telling of the story of Jesus, we were hooked. Even though Ralph Watts who played Jesus was in his teens, he had all the authority, charisma and power the role demanded. His voice was golden, focused and expressive. Judas, played by Ashley Gilmour, and the other main characters and soloists held us in suspense as they wowed us with their charming singing, their amazing stage presence and their believable characterizations. The rest of this fine Fringe Company and Principals included Lee Sherwood, Ryan Hutton, Ben Clark, Shellie Baigent, Jessica Theobold, Naomi Rogers, Lucy Bell, Ellie Gillett, Susannah Martin, Abby Deem, Beth Henderson, Robyn Howe, Karina Locke, Molly Shaw and Jenny Blane.

In the lighter moments, especially in the telling of the parables, a sense of comedy was never lost. We were kept laughing at the corny jokes, the playful frolics and creative dramatization as the company gave zing to the familiar Bible stories. No image was too difficult for these amazing performers. Grunting pigs, baaing sheep, argumentative goats, hissing snakes, jostling angels, menacing demons, the wailing wall, a house, a cheeseboard, a puppet show, ‘Hello Mums’ to the audience, a city wall, Groucho Marx, heart throbs, beat box, tap dance, ballet, the can can, and playing the flute (for real) amongst others – no effect was spared.

And yet amongst all the lively horseplay, the contentious behaviour of human kind identified by Jesus was never forgotten. Even the issue of group persecution reared its head from time to time, most poignantly in the parable of the sowing of the seeds – given to a character who lisped her story. Their imaginations had no bounds.

This outstanding production was wonderfully choreographed and the Ensemble was indeed a vibrant and important part of events.

The directors Dan Shumann and David Tickner and assistant Joshua Schumann and Choreographer Debbie Marks and her assistant Emily Norman showed tremendous skill in inspiring the company to exploit their natural youthful exuberance, creative imaginations and rhythmical agility to develop amazing group dynamics that swiftly interwove with dazzling credibility. We were almost breathless from watching.

A no holds barred band of highly competent musicians and singing of the highest quality gave credit to the Musical Director Angela Bocking and her assistants, Simon Thompson (bass) and Mark Ellis (guitar). Melody Bell supported with exceptional keyboard dexterity whole Chris Pepper kept the rhythm throbbing on drums.

An amazing array of props, the meeting of huge technical demands of sound and staging and the provision of costumes that combined the 60’s flower power with today’s fashions were also essential contributions to this amazing production. Definitely the best show

I have seen in years! Viva Viva!

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