Students prepare to bring grisly musical to the stage

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RIPON Grammar School students are rising to the challenge of bringing a dark and gruesome musical with a chilling edge to the stage.

More than 60 actors, musicians, backstage and technical crew, from age 11 to 18, are throwing themselves into telling the complex and grisly yet humorous tale of Sweeney Todd.

They will be performing the story of revenge, a bloody barber and a deranged baker to an audience of more than 1,000 over three nights at 7.30pm from Wednesday, March 6 to Friday, March 8.

The title character in their ambitious adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim Broadway musical - the vengeful barber who is out for blood - is being played by Jamie Tabor, from Ripon.

The 17-year-old, who played the title role of Joseph in Ripon Youth Theatre’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, is relishing playing such a different character: “It’s a great role and an amazing cast. Fun music too,” he said.

Singer Michael Ball even gave the students a shout-out on his BBC Radio 2 show at the weekend: “It’s a fantastic show, best of luck to everyone at Ripon Grammar School – and Jamie, you are going to smash it,” he said.

Tassy Bell, who plays Johanna, a stolen child, in the black comedy, said excitement is building: “The feeling is electric, especially since the set arrived. The cast and crew are really pulling together, and the show looks like it’ll be a brilliant, if a little gruesome, occasion.”

She explained: “It’s about a man mistreated by a corrupt system seeking out revenge. It’s about a woman trying to make a living from poverty and it’s about a broken family.

The 17-year-old, from Thirsk, added: “Of course, it’s also about love, hope and cooking people into pies, so a real mix of feelings, certainly.

“This tragic comedy takes place in 1890s London and will, without doubt, make you laugh and gasp, sometimes in the same breath.”

RGS director of music Michael Barker said it was a complex show. Regarded as one of the most difficult scores in musical theatre, it’s often put on by opera companies.

“Students have been working really hard, we have a wonderful stage set and collection of singers and musicians ready to tell this grisly tale,” said Mr Barker.

Francesca Kirkman, a member of the ensemble cast, feels confident the audience will love it: “I love the original Sweeney Todd show, but I feel we’ve made it even better.”

The 12-year-old, from Ripon, said: “The main cast are brilliant, and the orchestra very talented.”

Owen Robinson, 17, from Thirsk, also in the ensemble, agreed: “Sweeney Todd relies on an eerie and captivating atmosphere and the orchestra deliver this perfectly.”

Musician William Bellaries, 16, from Sawley, a member of the 20-strong student orchestra, added: “It’s a fantastic line-up, paired with incredibly complex music.”

Stage manager Ethan Kendrick, 15, from Ripon, said of the show, originally based on a 17th-century ‘penny dreadful’ story: “I think it’s going to be an adventure.”

*Call 01765 602647 to reserve tickets or pay by ParentPay