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Linking Young Minds Together
     Volume 2 Issue 110 | March 15, 2009|


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On “Sweeney Todd's” Success

Risana Nahreen Malik

SWEENEY Todd has certainly come a long way from when I first discovered him 10 years ago in a Horrible Histories book alongside Jack the Ripper. From an obscure Victorian myth to a much admired work of the grotesque, the very mention of Sweeney Todd conjures up images of blood and gore and toenail infested meat pies in the least imaginative of us. For the Sunbeams crowd, though, he evidently appealed to much more than the imagination, as their rendition of the acclaimed musical revealed itself amidst the audience on the 7th of February.

I doubt that much else was on the students' minds from the day it struck Shaarif Azfar Shameem that it would not be a bad idea to stage the life story of a bloodthirsty barber with a vendetta against humanity. Any news from school thenceforth would comprise of my sister either raving about the props that "Hiya-and-the-other-seniors-whose-names-she-could-not-be-bothered-to-remember" were making (although, knowing the said Hiya's artistic talent, I was not particularly surprised), or ranting about the frequent rehearsals during which overpowering voices would invariably burst into song, just as if there were not 20-some exasperated pre-teens two floors above, trying hard to keep their grades respectable. Then there were students turning up at Economics classes with the occasional walking stick or top hat, not to mention all the worry over the costumes and props even for those not part of the crew. Although organized largely by the aforementioned Shaarif, Zyma Islam, Naveen Abedin, Hiya Islam and Shawkeen Siddiquey, one would be hard put to find a soul in Classes 11 or 12 who did not pick up a paintbrush or make a helpful comment for the cause of Sweeney Todd. Throughout December and January, the microcosm of the Sunbeams A Level Batch revolved around it's making, and I doubt that Tim Burton's cast and crew could have rivaled them in effort.

The students' most anticipated evening of 2009 began with a Vivaldi piece playing in the background, as the narrator Nawra Mehrin gave the audience an introduction to the play. Then, as the curtains rose to reveal a dimly lit London street, I could finally see that my sister had every reason to rave bout the backdrops. The scene caricatured something right out of Great Expectations, or Oliver Twist, with rickety little houses fading into the distance, on either side of a narrow road. Sweeney Todd's barbershop and Mrs. Lovett's furnace were just as quaint and picturesque, and one could not help but marvel at the detail, right down to the cameo portraits that hung on the barbershop's moldy walls. Truth be told, I paid very little attention to the actors themselves for the first few minutes of each scene, trying to drink in the details of the setting.

It truly was remarkable how even with the simplicity of the props, they managed to leave so little to the imagination.

The actors were every bit as impressive and each scene was very well coordinated; it was hard to believe that they had achieved a near-flawless performance in a mere two months. (Unless, of course, they had stayed in character as often as was socially acceptable) Shaarif Shameem had the malevolence, the dark circle rimmed eyes and the notorious hair down to perfection and Naveen Abedin looked ever so slightly like Helena Bonham Carter, in a Mrs. Lovett-esque way. The beggar-woman, played by Tasfia Shahriar, was another success. Anthony (Mubarak Shamim) was performed quite well too, although a little more expression would have helped. (Then again, I imagine it would be harder to exaggerate the plight of a lovesick youth, as opposed to the role of a revengeful barber.) Shawkeen Siddiquey's portrayal of Signor Pirelli was one role in which dialogue would have been unnecessary. His presence, in that very, very sparkly suit, with the moustache was overpowering enough, I should think. Johanna (Naureen Mazumdar) was another such role; the gown and flowered bonnet probably won the audience over more than anything else. Zia Mohammad's depiction of the meek, innocent Toby was simply charming (Where DID he get those suspenders?) As for the Beadle, I could not imagine anyone other that Showmik Hassein in his role; no one could have done that toady smile like he did. And who can forget Abu Bakar Siddik's Judge Turpin? Alan Rickman presented a rather formidable character in Tim Burton's 'Sweeney Todd' but for this particular adaptation, his sheer exuberance couldn't have been more appropriate. (In passing, he really was the liveliest corpse I've ever seen.)

They say that an actor's prowess is defined by his performance of Shakespeare's 'Hamlet'. Although I doubt that the Sunbeams students are quite ready (or, for that matter, willing) to try out Shakespeare just yet, their portrayal of 'Sweeney Todd' undeniably speaks of talent that should not go unnoticed. I shall be awaiting their next performance, whenever that may be, with interest.

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