Review of Smike by Viva Youth Theatre

‘Smike’, the musical based on Dicken’s story of Nicholas Nickleby, was presented by Viva Youth Theatre at the Brook in Soham this week and what a wonderful production it was! This large group of highly talented performers radiated enthusiasm, dedication and stamina. The performance undoubtedly had the wow factor and the characters from Dicken’s story and from the school of the present were strongly portrayed.

The story began in a present-day classroom in which the new English teacher, Mr. Nicholls, endeavoured to interest the reluctant teenagers in the work of Dickens. He soon sparked interest when the class began to develop the story of Nicholas Nickleby as a musical production. The show gradually unfolded and we were taken back into a musical world in the time of Dickens.

The real heartthrob of the show was Ben Clark who played the two main characters: the young English teacher Mr Nicholls and Nicholas Nickleby. With highly accomplished acting, astute stage awareness and a singing voice to die for, Ben really brought these two separate roles home. The strict dictatorial headmaster and the Dickensian equivalent, Mr Squeers, were admirably played by Lee Sherwood and poignant innocence was exemplified in the characters of Smike and Smeeton played by Tilly Lewis. We were immediately sympathetic to their suffering as they were the butt of bullying by their peers in both worlds. Mollie Shaw was a wonderfully dreadful Mrs. Squeers. Alice Turner brought out the girlishness of the modern day drama teacher, Miss Grant, and the fanciful ways of Dickensian Squeer’s daughter who was inclined to lash out in screaming rages when things did not go her way. Other commendable contributions were made by Adam Hebbard (Wackford Junior), Emily Palmer (Tilda), Phil Evans (Mr Snawley), Jack Wright (Caretaker and Richard), Aaron Lord (Plank and Master Belling) and Zara Minns (Coates and Cobbey). It was a very pleasant surprise to find the locally-renowned Mike Rouse as the masterful Ralph Nickleby.

Other characters that really stood out for me included Elli Bovington’s Brown and Boulder. Her Rock n Roll solo was positively exhilarating. Another notable contribution was made by Lawrence Whitworth who has a natural talent for bringing out the ‘ah’ factor and a cheekiness that engenders more than a giggle or two.

There was so much in this production to enthrall and admire. Dicken’s themes of hypocrisy, cruelty, grimness and abused innocence were very much in evidence. The choreography kept us mesmerized with so much happening on the regularly packed stage and scuffles between lively school pupils were handled expertly. Classroom dynamics rang true and we were moved by the stark contrasts of despair as the coffin of a dead child moved slowly through the audience and the height of frivolity as the stage filled with gyrating rock and Roll fans.

The music was first rate with a strong chorus holding secure harmonies. The soloists were all impressive singers and a great band accompanied. There were some beautiful moments in the clarinet. Paul Garner certainly inspired many moments of considerable musical stature.

Director Joshua Schumann and Producer Daniel Schumann and this fine team are to be congratulated for such an excellent evening’s entertainment.                                                            Rosemary Westwell


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