Rory Mulvihill, one of the leading lights on York’s amateur stage scene, comes full circle when he plays Fagin in York Light Opera’s revival of Lionel Bart’s Oliver! next month.
Because the show – the musical based on the Charles Dickens classic novel Oliver Twist – was the very first one in which he appeared. He played the Artful Dodger in a school production at St Michaels in Leeds back in 1968.
“It was just by accident really. I was just asked to do the part by the director. That was my introduction to theatre and I’ve been doing it ever since,” he explains.
Rory worked as a lawyer for over 30 years before retraining as a Teacher of English as a Foreign Language.
Originally from Leeds, he has lived in York since the mid-1980s and his stage roles have been many and varied with local stage companies – from both Jesus and Satan in the York Mystery Plays to Old Deuteronomy in Cats and Sergeant Wilson in a stage version of Dad’s Army.
His first work with York Light was in 1985 in the summer show Songs from the Shows.
In this cabaret-style show he recalls being a cowboy in the Three Wheels On My Wagon song.
He has enjoyed all of his roles with York Light but the one of which he’s most proud is Barnum.
“It was a tremendous show,” he says. “Every member of the cast had to learn a circus skill and perform it to full houses.
“I spent four months going to a circus school three days a week learning how to tightrope walk.”
So how does he prepare to play a larger-than-life character like Fagin, the criminal who leads a gang of juvenile thieves in Victorian London?
He doesn’t do anything specific, Rory admits.
“Someone once said their character builds as they dress up as them and that certainly applies to Fagin!
“I’ll be having a beard, a wig and the iconic long green coat. It certainly helps wearing the costumes to get into character.”
This is his second time playing Fagin and one thing that makes the production different is the large company of young performers who play Fagin’s gang.
“The children involved give Oliver! its dynamic,” he says. “It’s a different set of kids, of course, and crew. We only have one set of kids this time instead of two.
“Having done it once, I’m not starting again, I’m building on what I’ve done before.
“Hopefully I’ll not stumble over the lines and give a better performance.
“Whenever you work with kids it’s difficult to begin with because they are scoping you out to see what they can and can’t get away with.
“But once you get over that it’s a joy. And they are now quite relaxed in the company of the adult cast and I’m getting to know them - although they’re maybe a bit too cheeky at times.
“Theatre is the best gift you can give a kid to carry through
And does he have a favourite song in the show?
Reviewing the Situation, he says, is a tour de force. “You can’t really go wrong with it. It’s a fantastically written song with a beautiful tune, comedy and pathos.
“Lionel Bart clearly thought, ‘I’m just going to take the audience’s emotions and put them through the wringer. So at the end they don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
“A wonderful piece of work”.
Raymond Crisp - York Press, 28th January 2020