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Looking at theatre away from the West End – Viva Youth Theatre

Viva Arts and Community GroupTheatre obviously isn’t just about London, although with the West End being at the pinnacle of theatre in the UK, productions, cast and creatives there get the most attention. Theatre groups across the country lay the foundation for many of those working in the West End, and one of those is The Viva Youth Theatre at Viva Arts and Community Group in Cambridgeshire.

Daniel Schumann
Daniel Schumann

Where it all began… The Viva Youth Theatre, Soham, Cambridgeshire, now in its 16th 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 Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London. He now produces for Bill Kenwright Ltd.

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. Viva is fortunate, largely to Schumann’s contacts, to have a large team of professionals from the industry on hand in every production.

Director and Producer: Daniel Schumann FRSA
Daniel is the founder of Viva and currently works as a producer for Bill Kenwright Ltd in the heart of London’s West End. He has been directing and producing shows for Viva since it began in 1997. Daniel will be one of the directors taking the Youth Companies to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this summer.

Musical Director: Stephen Kenna
Stephen KennaHighly experienced Stephen works as a musical director around the UK. He has been the musical director for many Viva productions over the years. For Viva he was recently MD for ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ as well as ‘Acorn Antiques the Musical‘.

Production Choreographer
Viva are linked to Newmarket School of Dance through Louise Plummer who is the Principal / Teacher of Ballet at the dance school. Royal Academy of Dance Licentiate Louise has been working with Viva since 2012 when Viva took ‘Fame the Musical’ to New York. Louise just finished choreographing her first professional pantomime at The Shaw Theatre!

When asked about the connection between grassroots theatre groups and the West End this is what Daniel Schumann had to say:

How important to the West End are theatre groups such as Viva?
“Everything and everyone has to start somewhere! I firmly believe that organisations like Viva help enormously in finding, nurturing and encouraging the West End stars of the future. Without somewhere to experience performing locally and develop skills locally I am sure we would miss a lot of talent and the West End would be poorer for it. I also believe that local theatre groups help develop theatre audiences and help to keep up the profile of West End and professional theatre. It goes without saying that young people are the future and, through organisations like Viva, we are ensuring that a love of watching and performing in theatre is instilled in young people – thus helping to secure the future of professional theatre.”

How can West End cast and creatives help local theatre groups such as Viva?
In my view the best way West End casts and creatives can help local theatre groups is to give their time to inspiring members of local groups through masterclasses and workshops. The link between amateur and professional theatre and fusing the two worlds is vital, and it is really important to give amateur performers and youth theatre members something or someone to aspire to and look up to.”

William Ilkley Major Metcalf in the West End's The Mousetrap.
William Ilkley Major Metcalf in the West End’s The Mousetrap.

William Ilkley (Major Metcalf in the West End’s The Mousetrap) has been an active supporter of Viva for many years and has used his contacts and skills as a professional actor to help Viva in many ways. He has run masterclasses for Viva and has attended several of their productions. Through William’s company, Viva were able to arrange a successful trip to New York for their members and perform at The Playgroup Theatre in New York.

Viva are renowned for their musicals and have won awards from NODA and have many 4/5* reviews and sell out awards from Edinburgh Fringe festival. Where are they now?

Oliver with Viva Youth TheatreShow Dates: Wednesday 4th March-Saturday 7th March 2015
Venue: The Brook, Soham (and Shaw Theatre London)
Price: £12.00
Time: Wednesday to Friday 7:30pm, Saturday’s performance 5pm.

Not only will Viva be performing this show in Soham but the whole cast, team, set, costumes and so forth will be transferred to The Shaw Theatre in London for Sunday 8th March 2015 for a matinee performance at 2:30pm. Price £14.50

CAST for the forthcoming production of OLIVER!
Zak Potts – Oliver
Zak is 10 years old. He has performed from the age of 6 in Pantomimes ‘Dick Whittington’, ‘Aladdin’ and ‘Jack in the Beanstalk’. Musicals include ‘Joseph’, ‘Bugsy Malone’ and ‘Hooray for Hollywood’. Zak is proud to be joining the Viva cast in ‘Oliver!’

Charlie Ellerton with Actress Sheila Steafel (Honorary life vice president) Sir John Baird Award for the best actor of the year for the youth theatre
Charlie Ellerton with Actress Sheila Steafel (Honorary life Vice-President) Sir John Baird Award for the best actor of the year 2014 for the youth theatre

Charlie Ellerton – Bill Sikes
‘Oliver!’ is Charlie’s 12th Viva show. He played the role of ‘Javert’ in’ Les Miserables’ and ‘Hugh’ in ‘Acorn Antiques the Musical’ in 2014. Charlie is going to study Musical Theatre at Arts Educational Schools in September.

Joseph Beach – Fagin
Fifteen year old Joseph is no stranger to the stage however this is his first Viva production. He is delighted to be playing the part of ‘Fagin’

Fred Kirk – Charley
Fred is a 12 year old student at Newmarket Academy and Newmarket School of Dance. After seeing ‘Les Miserables’, Fred was inspired to audition for ‘Oliver!’ This is his first Viva show. Fred appeared at Her Majesty’s Theatre, London with Stagecoach last year.

Charlie O’Connor – Noah Claypole / Dr Grimwig
‘Oliver!’ is Charlie’s fifth Viva production. His first was ‘Fame’, which Viva took to New York, and he also played ‘Danny’ in the musical ‘Grease’ in 2013. He is currently studying Drama, Performing Arts, Music Technology and Dance.

Charlie Gillett – Mr Bumble
Charlie has performed in ‘Gypsy’, ‘Phantom of the Opera’ and ‘Les Miserables’ to name a few of the Viva shows that he has been in over the years. Charlie received the Members’ Member Award last year.

Michael Fenton Stevens presenting Zara Minns with the Liza Goddard comedy award.
Actor Michael Fenton Stevens (President of Viva) presenting Zara Minns with the Liza Goddard comedy award in 2013

Zara Minns – Bet
Zara started with Viva minis when she was seven and her first show was ‘Beauty and the Beast’. She has since gone on to be in six more shows including playing the part of Marta in ‘The Sound of Music’ and Jan in ‘Grease’.

Becky Bush – Nancy
‘Oliver!’ is Becky’s second Viva show, the first coincidentally being ‘Oliver!’ ten years ago. Before re-joining Viva, Becky was a member of the Young Actors Company in Cambridge for five years. She hopes to be a professional actor in the future and is currently on a gap year auditioning for drama school

Emily Smith – Widow Corney
Emily Smith is 18 and has been involved with Viva for 5 shows which include ‘Annie’/’Gypsy’/’Beauty and the Beast’/ ‘Footloose’ and will be venturing up to Edinburgh for her 6th show with the company this summer. Currently on a gap year, Emily is auditioning for Musical Theatre colleges situated around London to pursue a professional career.

Jake Stearne – Dodger
Jake is thrilled to be playing the part of the Artful Dodger in ‘Oliver!’ and has always enjoyed music, singing and drama. Jake was in the final of Young Musician at Soham Village College and is currently part of the school production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’.

Aaron Lord with actress Claire Buckfield (vice president of Viva) Liza Goddard Comedy Award
Aaron Lord with actress Claire Buckfield (vice president of Viva) Liza Goddard Comedy Award

Aaron Lord – Mr Sowerberry
This is Aaron’s eighth Viva show and has appeared in ‘West Side Story’, ‘Smike’ and ‘Les Miserables’. He collected his ‘Viva’ Award last year from Claire Buckfield.

Samantha Williams – Mrs Sowerberry
This is her 15th show with Viva!! Sammy has been busy being Stage Manager at The Mumford Theatre in Cambridge. She has appeared in ‘Les Miserables’ (both productions), ‘Beauty and The Beast’ and ‘Acorn Antiques The Musical’.

Macey Bennett – Charlotte
Macey joined Viva aged 6; she was in ‘Beauty and the Beast’. Loving the experience so much, she continued performing with Viva and KD Theatre. Macey is delighted to be playing her first principal role.

Jack Wright – Mr Brownlow
‘Oliver!’ is Jack’s 8th Viva show. He recently played Minchin’s Lad in the Viva Theatre Company production of ‘Acorn Antiques The Musical’ and Babet and Courfeyrac in ‘Les Miserables’.

Laura Davies – Old Sally
Laura has performed in ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and ‘Acorn Antiques The Musical’.

Molly Gordon – Mrs Bedwin
Molly is new to Viva.

Full Cast of Oliver! for Viva
Full Cast of Oliver!


  • Neil Cheesman

    First becoming involved in an online theatre business in 2005 and launching londontheatre1.com in September 2013. Neil writes reviews and news articles, and has interviewed over 150 actors and actresses from the West End, Broadway, film, television, and theatre. Follow Neil on Twitter @LondonTheatre1

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