In Victorian times, to improve their prospects of even low-paid employment we sent children up chimneys and down mines. Nowadays we send them to Sylvia Young. It's difficult to know which is the greater cruelty.
Whereas the New York school of the performing arts produces 'The Kids from Fame', British establishments like Sylvia Young and Italia Conti seem to turn out 'The Kids from Chiswick' since their fee-paying structure attracts the upper middles as to a gymkhana and moulds polite, drilled, well-spoken automatons which can be shipped like weak-kneed veal calves, six dozen at a time, directly to wholesale meatpackers such as Cameron Mackintosh or Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Being modelled for gurning cheerfulness in cereal adverts for 40 hours a week delivers children whose innate propensity to beam, caper and twinkle for cameras means it's an impossible task to coerce them into credible characterisations of cowed, starved and maltreated orphans.
This probably explains why Matthew Bourne's choreography was defeated by cheerfulness and the opening scene of 'Oliver' with its stark wooden benches filled with teens spooning slop out of bowls was so not much Workhouse as Wagamama.
Singling out two or more of them to fill the roles of Oliver Twist and Artful Dodger only adds fuel to their fires of ambition, culminating of course in the dreadful 'I'll Do Anything' television contest which spilled the first handful of wrigglers onto the Drury Lane stage.
It's a calculated commercial ploy, of course, to cast so many small children from a big catchment area in a massive show like this. There are now about 140 kids involved in 'Oliver'. Assuming each of them brings a schoolful of chums, and their chums' parents, to the production it could actually pack the theatre for 80 nights. Or, more probably, matinees since a lot of them look as if they shouldn't really be up so late.
Thanks to everyone who joined Erin Kelly, Melanie McGrath and me at Mansfield Central Library on Saturday 25 February. We had a panel discussion and Q&A, ...