Kate Cavill looks back on her time in Oliver!

079 Mercury Theatre Oliver Pamela Raith Photography

We were delighted that Kate Cavill joined our wonderful Colchester Operatic Society cast for Oliver! at the beginning of our Abbey Field season. Here’s what she had to say about her musical experience in Victorian London:

‘I moved to Colchester in 2017.  Initially my time had been taken up with organising disabled adaptations to be made to my new house, but as time passed I started to feel the need to start making connections and building new friendships, as well as needing some sort of creative outlet.

I had participated in theatre workshops and productions through my school and college years, but had stopped performing around the time I went to university. I had also stopped taking singing lessons when I moved to Colchester.  I remembered how much I’d loved being involved in performing and thought it would be a good way to meet new people in my new hometown.

So, hitting Facebook for ideas, I found information on Colchester Operatic Society, who, it just so happened were holding open auditions for a new co-production with the Mercury Theatre of Lionel Bart’s musical, Oliver!

Now, I am not the type of person conventionally cast in musical productions.  My disability means that I’m a little over 3 feet tall and need to use a motorised wheelchair.  And with Oliver! being a period set piece, I felt it very unlikely that I would be cast, but I decided to try out anyway as both a way to meet people and to see how I would cope ‘fitting in’ to a dance audition where the rest of the cast were able bodied.

The pre-audition workshops were hard, focussing on a small passage of singing and a dance routine which we would then perform at our auditions.  I did my best to emulate the movements of the able bodied actors with my wheelchair, and on the odd occasion when this was more difficult, our assistant director and choreographer, Charlie Morgan, was brilliant at finding ways around whatever I was struggling with. In spite of the challenge I really did enjoy the workshops more than I had anticipated I would, and readied myself for my audition.

The audition seemed to go by in a flash, probably due to nerves. Having finished, I got my things together and wished good luck to the people I had been talking with. We’d been told we would receive an email with the casting by the following Wednesday, so I was caught off guard when I was asked to quickly have a chat with the creative team before leaving. ‘You’re in,’ they said. So I went home very pleased and more than a bit surprised at how the audition had turned out.

A couple of weeks later, rehearsals began and it was down to work. The ensemble was called to rehearse Thursday evenings, and there was a whole company rehearsal on alternate Sundays. It was incredible how it all came together over the weeks.  At first it was difficult to imagine the end product, and impossible for me to imagine that I would feel completely competent within my scenes.  But, as the weeks passed I felt so comfortable that I was able to think less about what I was doing and allow myself to feel that I was part of the busy street scenes, just getting on with life like the rest of the characters. This was also helped by Ryan McBride’s direction, which really helped me find the motivation for my London street scene characters.

While I am usually a motorised chair user, I decided to use a manual wheelchair for the show, as it looked less out of place.  As I am not able to self-propel a manual wheelchair for any distance or at any speed faster than a snail, I was often assisted by my fellow cast members, and when behind the scenes, by cast or backstage crew. This became known as ‘the wheelchair relay’, where I would be handed from one person to another to get me to the point that I needed to arrive on time.  Again our choreographer planned this so well, that (as far as I can tell) my journey around the stage, even within the big dance/movement numbers of ‘Who Will Buy’ and ‘Consider Yourself’, blended in with the action of the rest of the characters pretty seamlessly.

Oliver! is very much underpinned by the idea of inclusivity (‘Consider yourself one of us!’ being the tagline for the production).  Oliver arrives in London and is absorbed into the city’s communities (firstly, Fagin’s gang and the working classes in the London streets, then within his family, who he accidentally finds but was previously unaware existed).  This sense of ‘belonging’ was something I also felt very much offstage, as the whole acting company got to know each other better. It is a supportive environment to be in, with lots of laughter in between scenes, especially with the chatter in the dressing rooms once the run started.  But I can’t share any more about that as ‘What is talked about in the dressing room, stays in the dressing room.’

The creative team were really supportive throughout, encouraging us all to raise any concerns we had, which were always dealt with sensitively.  My efforts were always met with positivity by both the creative team and the other cast members.

The show itself went really well.  Weeks later, I still get people in Colchester recognising me and telling me how much they enjoyed it, which is wonderful to hear. It was an experience like none I’ve had before, and I feel grateful to have had the opportunity to perform with such a talented bunch of people.  Being part of the Oliver! company taught me a lot about the development of a production (tips and tricks I picked up both from my fellow performers and the creative team) and also about myself and the way I approach challenges.  I feel more confident on stage than I ever have before, and hope to keep building on this in future.’

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