Based on a Victorian melodrama with notoriously difficult music and tongue twisting lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler, a gore-soaked dark musical is hardly the immediate first choice for a school production - but as previous productions have shown, this is not a team which goes for easy options. Instead the school yet again rose to the challenges in such a major project and produced a performance worthy of the West End.
There were many moments when the audience understandably forgot that they were watching an amateur cast as the singing and acting were of such stellar quality. Musically the piece is complex and requires considerable skill from both musicians and performers, but the orchestra - under the baton of Margie Simper - were simply outstanding and the singing was superb throughout.
What really shone through in the piece was the confidence of the whole cast, not only the principals, which meant that in all the ensemble pieces and in small cameos such as the birdseller, every person on the stage was fully committed to what they were doing and each individual was totally in role at all times. This level of concentration and involvement radiates through to the audience and makes for gripping viewing, this was particularly apparent in the opening to the second half and in the lunatic scenes.
The production was blessed with two stunning central performances by Nicholas Simper as Sweeney Todd and Rebecca Ramalingam as Mrs Lovett. Both of these were exemplary, mesmerising the audience every moment they appeared. The two roles demand not only the ability to sing well but also to sing in character while simultaneously carrying out a range of complex activities - such as Sweeney calmly turning murder into an everyday routine while singing sweet lyrics about his missing daughter and so creating a real sense of menace by his actions.
Rebecca's Mrs Lovett is equally focussed and is both highly entertaining and at times vulnerable while always having an air of manipulative evil about her. She is simultaneously repulsive and strangely endearing, an extraordinary feat in such a young performer. They are ably supported by the cast in lesser roles, most notably Jack Harrison who has the unenviable task of opening the show. His first solo sets the standard for the evening and he went on to blossom further as the show develops. Martha Richmond also makes her mark early with a wonderful performance which is by turns comic and endearing, while George Ogden's portrayal of Pirelli is a real scene stealer.
There are few times when I am at a loss for words, but I genuinely was so riveted by this production that I completely forgot to make any notes at all during the second half - but by then there was no need to do so, as I already knew that there was never going to be sufficient ways in which to praise the skill, hard work and dedication which went into creating this amazing experience. Congratulations not only to those mentioned but also to all not mentioned whose talent shone forth and made me forget to even analyse what was happening. This is a dark and terrifying tale of criminal deeds and so it's probably appropriate to urge everyone to do whatever it takes - beg, steal or murder if need be - to ensure that you get your hands on a ticket!