Christmas always comes early at Churchill, as we hold our Christmas Concert in late November! This year we were back at the Playhouse theatre in Weston-super-Mare, where we last performed Sweeney Todd in February 2020. It was great to be back!
The Performing Arts team have been amazing in keeping music, dance and drama going through the pandemic last year, where there were restrictions on choral singing and playing woodwind and brass instruments. Thankfully, this year those restrictions have been lifted and the team have been unleashed! As a result we had performances from Brass, Flute and Clarinet ensembles, along with Concert Band, Big Orchestra and String Orchestra, giving us fantastic pieces from their repertoire including classical, modern and festive music.
There were also four choirs on the bill: the classical Chamber Choir, our Youthful Spirit gospel choir, the Year 7-10 choir and the massed ranks of the Year 7 and 8 Junior Choir which closed the show. There’s no doubt that the Junior Choir was a great way to finish the night, telling the Christmas story through music (and synchronised actions!) There were some incredible soloists fronting the choir, with Lucy Donovan, Anna Pope, Ella Phippen, Ben Marks, Ben Payne and Joe Armfelt wowing the audience!
The concert also showcased our student leaders, with Peter Skeen (Year 12) conducting Big Orchestra, Bori Gunyits and Miyah Barker (Year 13) conducting the Year 7-10 choir, Toby Wilson (Year 10) arranging pieces for Big Orchestra and String Orchestra, and the highly efficient backstage crew led by Mimi Mendl and Mia Wakeling (Year 13). All of the songs performed by Junior Choir were also composed by our students!
The first half concluded with an early showcase for next spring’s production of Rock of Ages. The stage was fizzing with energy and the double cast gave us a taste of what to expect when we return to the Playhouse between 16th and 18th February 2022 for what promises to be a spectacular show.
A huge thank you goes out to all the staff from the Academy and the Playhouse who helped get the concert together, to the wonderful audiences across the two nights, and to the amazing students who owned the stage. It felt good to be back!
Remembrance Day is a vital moment for us to call to mind those who have made the ultimate sacrifice so that we can enjoy the freedoms that we have today. During the silence we observe, we all experience an identical minute between the bells, but in our private inner worlds each person has an unknown and unique journey as we reflect on what remembrance means to us.
I always preface the silence with my classes with a little about why Remembrance Day is particularly important to me. I tell them about my Grandfather, an officer in the Royal Navy, serving in the Arctic convoys and captaining a minesweeper, before working on the Pluto programme to supply fuel to the beaches on D Day. After the war he returned to teaching as Headmaster of Grasmere school, where he worked until retirement. Sacrifice is not always about death. We remember the fallen but also those who were – and still are – prepared to risk their lives to defend our society. We can learn a lot from their individual sacrifice for the collective good.
Each year I display a poem on the board for the students to read if they wish. Some like – or need – a focus for the minute. Previously I have used Sassoon, Owen, and McCrae, but in recent years I have favoured Mametz Woodby Owen Sheers. This poem is so resonant and powerful in its description of the uncovering of the remnants of the battle of the Somme in peacetime as farmers plough. Sheers has spoken eloquently of the inspiration for the poem as he visited the site:
Walking over that same ground, now a ploughed field, 85 years later I was struck by how remnants of the battle – strips of barbed wire, shells, fragments of bone, were still rising to the surface. It was as if the earth under my feet that was now being peacefully tilled for food could not help but remember its violent past and the lives that had sunk away into it. Entering the wood, a ‘memory’ of the battle was still evident there too. Although there was a thick undergrowth of trailing ivy and brambles, it undulated through deep shell holes. My knowledge of what had caused those holes in the ground and of what had happened among those trees stood in strange juxtaposition to the summer calmness of the wood itself; the dappled sunlight, the scent of wild garlic, the birdsong filtering down from the higher branches.
As we remember the Great War it is our duty and privilege as teachers to help the next generation reach back into the collective memory of our violent past and hope with all our hearts for a peaceful future in their hands.
Mametz Wood by Owen Sheers
For years afterwards the farmers found them – the wasted young, turning up under their plough blades as they tended the land back into itself.
A chit of bone, the china plate of a shoulder blade, the relic of a finger, the blown and broken bird’s egg of a skull,
all mimicked now in flint, breaking blue in white across this field where they were told to walk, not run, towards the wood and its nesting machine guns.
And even now the earth stands sentinel, reaching back into itself for reminders of what happened like a wound working a foreign body to the surface of the skin.
This morning, twenty men buried in one long grave, a broken mosaic of bone linked arm in arm, their skeletons paused mid dance-macabre
in boots that outlasted them, their socketed heads tilted back at an angle and their jaws, those that have them, dropped open.
As if the notes they had sung have only now, with this unearthing, slipped from their absent tongues.
It was great to welcome so many visitors to the Academy on Wednesday evening for our annual Open Evening. Having designed and run a virtual event last year, we worked hard to open up the Academy safely to visitors so they could make an informed choice of secondary school.
In pre-pandemic times, we would gather visitors in the Academy hall to hear the perspectives of our students, and a presentation from myself. This year, to avoid overcrowding, we put that presentation online and sent it out to everyone who had pre-booked tickets in advance. It was playing in the hall anyway, so anyone could see it if they wanted to! And here it is: Sixth Form student Bethan, House Captain Pritika, and Year 7 students Jude and Frankie give their perspectives on Churchill, alongside my explanation of why I think Churchill is the right choice for secondary education.
Putting this presentation online really helped ensure a smooth flow of visitors through the Academy, with plenty of time for them to visit all the departments and learn as much as they could about Churchill Academy & Sixth Form. Our younger visitors had the opportunity to collect a sticker from every department they visited, and a complete set was rewarded with a “future student” pin badge from the Sixth Form Centre.
Open Evening is always an event that makes me feel so proud of Churchill. I feel like it “opens the lid” on our school for others to see what I see every day! Our staff, brimming with enthusiasm for their subjects and the extra-curricular programme. Our buildings, more and more reflecting the state-of-the-art learning environment we are developing. And, above all, our students. They really are amazing. Tour guides, department helpers, student leaders, and performers of every discipline turned out in huge numbers. They conducted themselves knowledgeably, confidently, articulately and with such enthusiasm about the Academy – it was wonderful to see and hear! Many of them spoke about how glad they were to be back in school after the long lockdowns of recent years, and the video below captures some of what they are looking forward to the most.
Churchill has been oversubscribed every year from 2017 onwards, with waiting lists operating in all year groups at the moment. If you were at our open evening this week, you will understand why. It’s humbling to know that so many families put their trust in us. They trust that we will help make a positive difference to the most important thing in their lives – their children. And that, in turn, their children will make a positive difference to themselves, to the Academy, and to the wider world around them. That is why we do what we do. And there’s nothing that makes me prouder.
After last year’s virtual event, this year we were determined to bring Sports Day back “for real” – and the 2021 event delivered! Year group bubbles were the order of the day, with separate sections of the field for each group of competitors. Year 7 and 8 started on the top field for the Tug of War, whilst Years 9 and 10 began the day with track and field events on the bottom field and the 3G. After break, both halves of the school swapped over, before all coming together in year group areas to watch and compete in the the track finale: 100m, 200m, 300m and 4x100m relay.
House spirit was in full display, with the mascots making a big entrance and encouraging their teams throughout the day. Face-paint and glitter was liberally applied – to the extent that some Windsor students began to resemble their smurf mascot! – and the cheering never let up from start to finish. The whole day was soundtracked by Mr Hartley in the DJ booth, including singlaongs to Three Lions and Sweet Caroline in anticipation of the England men’s football team’s appearance in the final of the Euros.
Competitors and spectators were well catered for, with Aspen’s providing all-day barbecue food and the Sixth Form ice-cream stand proving very popular! The Sixth Form provided much support for the day, acting as guides, timekeepers, litter-pickers, umpires and more.
At the business end of the day, the competition was fierce. Peter Skeen (Year 11) and Mr Gale kept the scores and records regularly updated in a magnificently sprawling spreadsheet. In total eight school records and twenty seven house records were broken on the day. You can see all the record breakers on the Academy website here.
The broken records all contributed to the overall competition, which saw Tudor House establish an early lead. Lancaster mustered a late surge with some very impressive sprint performances, whilst Hanover overtook Windsor into second place by one point courtesy of a victory in the final event of the day – the Year 10 boys’ 4x100m relay. Tudor’s lead proved unassailable, and they completed the double by also lifting the Tug of War Trophy.
Activities Week is a vital part of the Academy calendar. It’s an opportunity for us to take learning outside the classroom, to develop vital skills such as teamwork, leadership, creativity and problem solving whilst also building confidence in new environments. This year, more than ever, our students have needed the opportunity to get out into the fresh air and enjoy the feeling of freedom in the summer sunshine (and occasional British summer downpour). Not to mention that having lots of time outdoors greatly reduces the risk of infection with covid and the chance of any more bubbles popping in the final week of term…
It’s normally the time when we are able to get our residential trips away to Europe and beyond. This year that hasn’t been possible, but the staff have done an amazing job of organising superb activities around the Academy site and our beautiful local area. It’s been a big logistical challenge, but we’ve managed it! We’re grateful to Adventure Bristol and Mendip Outdoor for helping us with their expertise, and to the amazing team of staff who have pitched in, helped out and solved problems throughout the week. I must pay particular tribute to Mr Davies, who masterminded the whole thing and then ended up having to call the shots remotely whilst self-isolating at home as a close contact of a coronavirus case. What a trooper!
I have tried to take in as many of the activities as possible this week. On Monday, I spent a fantastic day with Year 7 on their sponsored walk along the Strawberry Line and up to Crooks Peak. I started at the back and tried to power-walk all the way to the front, so I would see the whole of Year 7 walking. I managed it – although I paid for it the next day with very stiff legs! Luckily on Tuesday I was based in school, with Year 7 again on the Adventure Bristol activities and Year 10 on Basecamp with candle-making, nail art, some delicious looking cream teas and plenty more besides…
On Wednesday I ventured out again with Year 10 the water sports day – although half of the day was more like mud sports as the students tackled a tough-mudder-style assault course. Having seen some of our students fling themselves through a mud pit with glorious abandon, I don’t think I’ll ever see them in the same light again!
Finally, on Thursday I was back at school with Year 9 and Year 8 – although sadly I had to spend several hours chained to my desk wading through the latest government guidance on Step 4 of the roadmap and working out how much of what we’d already planned for September we would need to unpick and re-do. Such are the joys of headship! I did manage to get out to most of the activities as well, and even manged to race Mr Sharp over the giant inflatable assault course in the sports hall. I’ll let Year 9 tell you who won.
I’ve had my camera with me throughout the week, and thought readers might enjoy my photo diary.
Activities Week ends with Sports Day tomorrow. There are records to be broken (you can see the current records on our website) and it’s really all to play for. We last had a proper Sports Day in 2019, so we don’t know what our Year 7 and 8 students are capable of in track and field. At the same time, the transfer of some older students to Lancaster House in September has meant that Stuart House’s recent dominance may be under threat. Who will win? Only time will tell!
I’ve watched England all my life. My earliest memory is collecting Panini Stickers for the 1982 World Cup in Spain. These sticker albums were all the rage, with packs flying off the shelves and a busy market of “swapsies” in the primary school playground as we all set about trying to complete our collections. Nobody I knew ever did! Although I don’t remember much about the tournament itself (I was seven!), I do remember being very happy about getting the Kevin Keegan sticker in my England page…
The 1986 World Cup is much clearer in my memory. I remember the injustice of Maradona’s handball goal, sending us crashing out in the quarter finals. I remember Italia ’90 too, when Chris Waddle’s penalty miss sent us out at the semi-final stage.
Summer 1996 gave me the tournament that I will never forget. I was 21 years old, and I had just finished my final exams at university. I was waiting around for my friends to finish theirs, before we all headed off for a holiday in France together to celebrate the end of three years at university. The sun was shining, Britpop was at its height, and we had the Euros on home soil.
Criticism of the team was rife before the tournament, but it soon turned round on a tidal wave of national expectation. Although we thrashed the Netherlands 4-1, the game of the tournament for me was England vs Scotland. There was so much riding on the match, with a lot of criticism in the press counterbalanced by a rising tide of national expectation. Shearer settled nerves early on, and keeper David Seaman pulled off a magnificent penalty save – but it was Paul “Gazza” Gascoigne’s sublime bit of skill just on the edge of the Scottish penalty area which propelled us all to believe that maybe, just maybe, this was our year.
Of course, it wasn’t to be. Gazza’s outstretched foot was just a whisker away from converting a Shearer cross into a golden goal in extra time of the semi final, but it finished goalless. Current England manager Gareth Southgate’s agonising penalty miss sent us crashing out and the dream was over.
Michael Owen provided the moment of the tournament for me in 1998. Aged just 18, his pace terrified opposing defenders. He ripped through Argentina to score a stunner in the last 16 of the World Cup, before we went out, yet again, on penalties.
It’s a familiar pattern. You start the tournament feeling realistic: there are much better teams in the draw. We don’t really stand a chance. But then the players step on to the pitch, and you hear the national anthem. They string a few passes together. The keeper makes a decent save. There’s a moment of brilliance, the ball is in the back of the net, and you’re up off the sofa yelling in excitement. You start to believe…this could be our moment. This could be it. We could actually win this. Until – usually – we don’t.
Now we’re back on home soil again. In the topsy-turvy world that we currently inhabit, the 2020 Euros are being played all across the continent…in 2021. We were lucky enough togo to Wembley to watch a qualifier (5-0 against Bulgaria), so we’re fully invested! We’ve got the wall chart up. We’ve drawn our teams in the sweepstake (I’ve got Spain…), dusted off the St George’s flags and plotted out the various routes to the final. Could this be our year?
Gareth Southgate is the man of the moment. I’ve been impressed by his calm, controlled approach to the task. He doesn’t listen to the thousands of armchair pundits across the land, cursing him for picking Tripper at left back and questioning Sterling’s inclusion in the team given his poor club form this year. He assesses the situation in front of him, and makes the call that he thinks is right. He proved, in the 2018 World Cup, that he knows what he is doing. He can lead a team through a major tournament and the team are with him.
His beautifully written “Dear England” shows that he knows that the national team is about much more than football. He said: “the result is just a small part of it. When England play, there’s much more at stake than that. It’s about how we conduct ourselves on and off the pitch, how we bring people together, how we inspire and unite, how we create memories that last beyond the 90 minutes. That last beyond the summer. That last forever…I think about all the young kids who will be watching this summer, filling out their first wall charts. No matter what happens, I just hope that their parents, teachers and club managers will turn to them and say, “Look. That’s the way to represent your country. That’s what England is about. That is what’s possible.”
On Sunday, against Croatia, in a re-match against the team that knocked us out of the World Cup in 2018, on a gloriously sunny afternoon, at Wembley Stadium with 22,500 actual fans in the stands, his players showed us what’s possible. Kalvin Phillips was a tremendous presence, finding Raheem Sterling to set us on our way with a solid 1-0 victory. And so, hope begins to bloom again…
My 21-year-old self still lives on in my 46-year-old body. He still lives the moment of Gazza’s glorious goal against Scotland in 1996. And here we are, in 2021, facing our old rivals at Wembley in the Euros again. Phil Foden has dyed his hair in a Gazza style. Is it too much to hope that he can capture some of his iconic football magic as well?
Euro 2020 (in 2021) gives us all a chance to share in something special, something that brings us all together. We can hope together, celebrate together, enjoy together. If necessary we can commiserate together. But, after what everyone has been through over the past year and a half, I hope that the next month gives us moments to celebrate. Because, whether we win or lose, it’s coming home. You heard it here first.
We won’t let a few little things like a global pandemic, last minute government policy announcements, gale force winds and torrential rain dampen our festive spirits! Christmas at Churchill was a little different this year, but still spectacular…
Sixth Form Fancy Dress
The Revue was a online spectacular this year, with a live-streamed TV studio and interactive fun! All in the traditional Sixth Form Christmas Fancy Dress, which this year was even more inventive than ever.
Sports Awards 2020
Our annual Sports Awards spectacular couldn’t happen in person at a luxury hotel this year, so Team PE transported it to a Christmas celebration instead!
The annual Headteacher’s Quiz is always a hotly-fought contest and this year was no exception! Tutor groups competed in our online Google Quiz to see which tutor group and which House would be crowned the Quiz Champions 2020. When the results were all tallied up, the overall winners were:
Top Scoring Tutor Group: 10LJAH – well done Lancaster House and Mr Hayne!
Winning House (highest average score): STUART HOUSE! Many congratulations to everyone in Stuart.
I love poetry. I’ve always thought of it as distilled language: as though ideas have been boiled down and condensed so that only the concentrated essence remains. Because of this, every word in a poem feels somehow as if it’s carrying extra weight, extra resonance, extra value. When reading a poem, my senses are heightened and alerted: it’s a thrilling, exciting feeling.
I first experienced this sensation in an English Literature classroom in the autumn of 1991 (or possibly the spring of 1992) when I first encountered the poetry of Sylvia Plath. I’d always loved books and reading, but when I read Plath it was like I finally understood what all the fuss was about. I remember reading Lady Lazarus and the hairs standing up on my arms and the back of my neck. My teacher lent me his copy of her collection Ariel, and I haven’t looked back since.
My experience of “waking up” to poetry sounds exactly like the experience of our current Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage. On Desert Island Discs earlier this year, he described vividly his first encounter with the work of Ted Hughes:
“It suddenly struck me, in a very electrifying moment, that the world was a really interesting place. It could be packaged up in these little bundles of language, which, at the end of the day, are only black marks against a white page. But if you put them in the right order, you can make extraordinary things happen in somebody else’s head across thousands of miles, across thousands of years, and in complete silence. And the shock of that realisation and the primitive magic of it has never really left me. I still feel that when I’m looking at a poem: that I’m staring at some kind of circuit board of language, which makes a contactless contact with something in my head. I think I knew at that very moment, that poetry was going to be my thing.”
Over the years, I have taught poetry to hundreds and hundreds of students. I haven’t always succeeded in igniting the same passion in every single one of them! But I hope I have helped some to find the power of poetry, and to enjoy it for themselves – away from having to study it for GCSE.
This last week, I have been blown away to see exactly this happen at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form. At the end of January 2020, Ms Cody from our English Department gave an assembly to all main school students on the theme of “Literature that changed the world.” At least one student was inspired to pick up the books Ms Cody described, to see what all the fuss was about. That student was Imogen Beaumont, who has gone from winning our House Poetry Competition in 2019 to becoming a Foyle Young Poet of the Year 2020.
I have followed the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award for over 20 years. Since 1998, the Award has been finding, celebrating and supporting the very best young poets from around the world. It is firmly established as the leading competition for young poets aged between 11 and 17 years old. This year, a staggering 15,966 poems were entered. Young writers from a record-breaking 118 countries entered the competition from as far afield as Afghanistan, Ecuador, Mozambique, North Korea and the Seychelles, and every corner of the UK. From these poems, this year’s judges Keith Jarrett and Maura Dooley selected 100 winners, made up of 15 top poets and 85 commended poets. After Mr Lockett put the entry invitation into our newsletter on 3rd July, Imogen entered. Her poem, The sound of Shakespeare’s women, was chosen as one of the top 15. When you read it, you can see why:
The sound of Shakepeare’s Women
If Juliet was silenced
amongst a patriarchal nightmare and
Lavinia was two limbs down
with no tongue to tell their tale and
Ophelia was driven to madness
with no sense left to speak and
Cordelia was shunned by her father,
her pointless words falling on deaf ears and
Desdemona’s desperate truth
was shouted down by whispered lies,
Then Will’s trying to tell us something.
By Imogen Beaumont
Imogen’s poem is a powerful, skilful piece of writing. She told me she reads a lot of Shakespeare – and you can tell! The poem draws in repeated examples of female characters in Shakepeare’s plays who are variously silenced, ignored, or left voiceless.
Juliet pleads with her father in Romeo and Juliet to listen to her when he plans her marriage to a man she does not love. He ignores her pleas, and she is forced to take desperate measures. Lavinia, in Titus Andronicus, is raped and has her hands cut off and her tongue cut out so she can’t reveal who attacked her. Ophelia is driven mad when Hamlet, who said he loved her, ignores her and hurls abuse at her when she tries to help him. Cordelia tells her father, King Lear, the truth when he asks her to: as a result, she is disinherited and cast out from the family. Othello is tricked into believing his wife, Desdemona, has been unfaithful to him. She tells him again and again that it isn’t true, but he believes the lies and smothers her with a pillow.
In each case, the inability of the male characters to hear what the women are trying to tell them leads to tragedy. What Imogen does so skilfully is distil those stories down to their concentrated core, and connect them with one final line to our modern day experience. The #MeToo movement and the linked #BelieveHer hashtag show that, today, women’s voices are still too often ignored, silenced, or discounted. It would seem the lesson that Shakespeare was trying to teach over 400 years ago has still not been learned.
Imogen’s powerful voice has found just the right words, in just the right order, to connect ideas across hundreds of years and deliver that electric shock of meaning that only poetry can deliver. It’s a stunning piece of work. I’m really proud that our English teachers have had some small part in unlocking her talent: we can’t wait to see what she’ll write next, or where the next young poet will spring from. Could it be you?
Open Evening is always one of the high points of the Academy calendar. Our students and our staff love to show off all the opportunities that Churchill has to offer. In normal times, we would have a small army of keen volunteer students showing prospective parents and curious Year 5 and 6 children around. Subject specialists would be on hand to demonstrate and talk about their part of the curriculum; our extra-curricular activities would be out in force; all our specialists would be on hand to answer parents’ questions; children would be collecting stickers from every station on the tour in pursuit of a “future student badge.”
In 2020, this sadly isn’t possible. We have had to adjust to the fact that, in the new pandemic world, we cannot have visitors in. Our priority has to be the safety and health of the staff and students on site, and we are doing all we can to limit the risks. And yet the continued success of the Academy over the coming years depends on our future students, and the smooth transition from primary to secondary we have worked so hard to establish.
For this reason, we have moved our open evening online for 2020. In doing so, we have tried as far as possible to replicate the “on site” experience of a real open evening – but from the comfort and safety of your own home. We have a dedicated page on the Academy website. Here is what you will find there.
Headteacher and student presentations
I look forward to my open evening presentation every year. Not only do I love talking about Churchill, what we do, and why we are here, but I love being joined on stage by our fantastic students.
Every year I am introduced by our senior students, and I leave the last word to our youngest. Every year they write their own speeches, and talk about their experiences in their own words. This year, we have done exactly the same – but on video, rather than in person. I am joined by Ella, President of the Sixth Form Council; Emma, in Year 11; and Erin and Jacob from Year 7. For me, it was especially gratifying to hear from Emma, because back in 2016 she was one of the Year 7 speakers at my first Open Evening as Headteacher. I don’t mind telling you that hearing about her experiences after five years with us brought a tear to my eye!
Question and Answer Sessions
Open Evening is usually the time when parents and children can ask all the questions they want, to reassure themselves about any aspect of secondary school that they might be uncertain about. It is absolutely right that the same opportunity is available this year. Here’s how:
Email us your question to firstname.lastname@example.org: no question too big, no question too small. If you leave us a contact number, we are happy to call you back to discuss things with you: we know it’s usually much better to talk to a human being than to get a written reply! Whatever works for you, we’ll do our best to help.
Register for one of our Q&A Webinars: these sessions will feature a short presentation, followed by the opportunity to get your questions answered by me and a panel of our current students. We are running four panels:
Families tell us that they find the paper documentation we hand out on open evening really useful. They provide the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions, and they are a useful reference point to come back to as a reminder of the things that were seen and heard on the night. We have put both documents online for you to download, read on screen, or print out at home:
On our “in person” open evening, we issue a sticker-collecting booklet to any Year 5 or 6 children who come along. The children can collect a sticker from each department they visit, and if they fill their book they can collect a prize from the Sixth Form Centre. It’s one of our favourite parts of the evening!
In order to replicate this, we’ve created a virtual treasure hunt quiz for our prospective future students to fill in. You can find it on the website, or here.
We have done our best to provide as full an experience as possible on our virtual open evening. As it happens, on the day scheduled for our open evening this year, it was hammering down with rain – so maybe it was just as well it was virtual! We hope that, by next year, things will be back to normality enough to open up the Academy to visitors again. In the meantime, we hope you like what you see – and we hope that prospective parents and their children choose Churchill.
What a show! Audiences last week were treated to spectacular performances of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. It’s not every school that could manage a production this complex, this musically and theatrically challenging, this dark…but Churchill’s students didn’t just manage it, they pulled it off in style. Sondheim’s complex score was performed note-perfectly by the pit orchestra. On stage, the singers delivered the overlapping, rapid-fire songs with such confidence and gusto that the audience were carried along with the story, the characters and the experience of grimy, backstreet Victorian London, brought to life by the wonderful sets, costumes and production design.
But, my goodness it was dark! Sweeney Todd is exiled for a crime he didn’t commit so an evil judge could get his hands on Todd’s daughter. The judge has Todd’s daughter committed to a lunatic asylum rather than allow her to see another man. Todd, returning, sets up a barber shop with the sole intention of using it as a trap to murder his enemies. Pie-shop-owner Mrs Lovett, allowing Todd to think his wife has died, uses the bodies of Todd’s victims as the filling for her gruesome produce, selling them to enthusiastic and unsuspecting customers. It sounds horrendous, but the show trod that delicate line between horror and humour perfectly, so that the audience were entertained throughout, even as the body-count mounted.
The performances were professional-standard, from the lead actors to each member of the chorus. The show was double-cast, meaning that each audience got to see different combinations of actors in the lead roles. When I saw it, on the Friday night, Brett Kelly was a brilliant Sweeney. On stage for almost the entire duration of the show, his performance maintained intensity and drive from the first moment to the last. He was matched by Kornelia Harasimiuk’s Mrs Lovett, whose knockabout comedy was a horrific mask for her selfish plotting. The young lovers, Johanna (Evie Tallon) and Anthony (Bobby Rawlins) were both compelling. I must make special mention of Will Truckle’s gloriously over-the-top Pirelli, whose Italian accent was trumped by his excellent Irish; and Jessica Bailey as The Beggar Woman was a compelling presence on stage, causing gasps of realisation from the audience as her true identity was revealed.
The supporting cast were also note-perfect. The villainous Judge Turpin (Bede Burston) and his sidekick The Beadle (Charlie Tyler) were so evil, they made the audience sympathise with the murderer-and-cannibal duo of Todd and Lovett! But the image that will stay with me is that of the young Tobias, a role shared between eight young actors across the performances. In a world of twisted morality and selfishness, Tobias’s final scene was chilling indeed.
What came across to me was the tremendous team effort that goes to make a production. Sound, lighting, costume, props, stage management, choreography, musicians, staff, students, parents, families…everyone contributed to the success of the show. I know how hard everyone has worked, and the blood, sweat and tears that have gone into it. Well – it was worth it. Hearty congratulations to everyone involved – it was a spectacular show.