Matthew Burns

SEDBERGHIANS TREAT SELL-OUT AUDIENCES TO EMOTIONALLY CHARGED LES MISERABLES

A company of nearly 100 pupils and staff from Sedbergh School took to the stage last week for a three-night run of Les Misérables School Edition. The cast, directed by Cathy Want, included pupils in Years 9 to 12, and two pupils in Year 8 from Casterton, Sedbergh Preparatory School, making their debut on the Senior School stage.

Director Cathy Want said: “Staging Les Misérables in its 30th Anniversary year has been a real privilege and something of an adventure – we were delighted to bring it to this corner of Cumbria.

With tremendous support from pupils in all backstage, technical, design and orchestral roles, everyone rose to the challenge with great enthusiasm, energy and good humour.  

A full twelve months in the planning, auditions were held last June and rehearsals started in September. The pupils really valued the input from a number of industry professionals and technical resources such as 30 radio microphones and a new state of the art LED lighting rig.

We utilised multi use sets of steps designed and made by Phil Saunders for much of our staging and I must thank Julie Nixon, from Farfield Mill in Sedbergh, who painted the wonderful gauze screens, which were a key device in the set.”

Musical Director Chris Allinson said: “Many members of the cast had never done anything like this before, and I consider it very important to strike a balance between an educational experience for the pupils and the need for a professional sound.

Les Misérables seamlessly blends universal storytelling with spectacle and the music is complex, with vocal ranges that stretch professionals. The Schools Edition is adapted to meet the needs of the educational theatre market.”

William Player, 16, was outstanding as Jean Valjean, who is on stage for most of the production. He has a tremendous voice, amply demonstrated by his rendition of Bring Him Home.

His arch foe, Javert, played by Finn Askins, sang the role with a maturity beyond his years; as the tragic Fantine, Olivia Ridsdale’s ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ was tender and absent, yet powerful, and she would not look out of place in any professional company.

Megan Kenyon’s Madame Thenardier was convincingly wretched and comic at the same time. Backed by a rousing ensemble, the show was a triumph for the whole company and director Cathy Want has to be congratulated for bringing out the best of this young talent; they thoroughly deserved the prolonged standing ovation at the close.

Headmaster Andrew Fleck said: “I have seen Les Misérables several times but have never been so moved as when watching pupils at Sedbergh School perform last week – stunning voices and great stagecraft. School drama is so much more than stage entertainment, and themes from Les Misérables have been the subject of discussion at School all week.” 

Clare Towers, from Arkholme, near Kirkby Lonsdale, said: “I walked into the performance having never really enjoyed it; I came away bowled over – it was an emotionally charged performance and I wasn’t the only one who shed a tear.” 

Sedbergh School, founded in 1525, is a co-educational boarding school and has an alumna body rich in Performing Arts success stories, such as BAFTA winner script writer Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire, The Full Monty), playwright John Arden and BAFTA film designer Assheton Gorton (101 Dalmatians, Get Carter, The French Lieutenant’s Woman) and more recently, TV presenter Ashley James and Coronation Street actor Adam Rickitt (Nick Tilsley).

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