This weekend Splinters, a Sheffield based youth theatre group will be taking over The Octagon Centre with their production of Jesus Christ Superstar. Facing the challenge of having to fill a performing space much larger than their usual location, the Montgomery Theatre, the group have taken inspiration from the staging of the 2012 arena tour, and will also have video projections, a band, and choir alongside their performers on stage.
Director Ian Walker joked that having a clear artistic vision made his job a lot easier: “I think the thing with this one is to try and have a vision to try and make it a little bit different, so in fairness a lot of my work was done, well before we got to rehearsals, because you had to look at what set you needed and how you wanted to costume it because what we’ve tried to do with this is bring it very much up to date and give it more of a modern feel.”
For anyone unfamiliar with the show it depicts the final few weeks of Jesus’ life, culminating with the crucifiction. The show originated as a concept album, because creative team Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice could not find anyone willing to produce their idea as a show, and were even told that it was the “worst idea in history.” Following its release in September 1970 the album topped US Billboard charts and went on to make its Broadway debut the following year.
Due to its origins the show has very little spoken dialogue and is almost completely sung through. Leading man, Dan Romano said he much preferred this style of show to one broken up by speech: “The one thing I’ve found with sung-throughs is that it’s a lot easier to learn your lines off the bat because it’s a lot easier to memorise a melody than a line…I kind of like the consistency compared to normal musicals where you’ve got script and it switches into song it can be a weird switch sometimes, but when it’s sung through it’s just that constant, which I think makes it make more sense.”
Ross Bannister who’s playing Judas added: “There’s an extra added element of fear that goes with a sung through, cause it starts and it doesn’t stop and if you mess up, it’s gonna keep going.”
Both Dan and Ross said the emotional range their characters go through made the roles exciting to play as well as a bit of a challenge. Dan described Jesus as: “Really spanning the human spectrum of emotion, so I think that’s what makes it challenging, because you’ve got to be very versatile and dynamic, but it’s also really fun to have that stretch and vocally it’s kind of the same thing.”
Ross felt that playing Judas posed similar challenges, but also noted that: “The song’s themselves are songs I’ve wanted to sing for 25 years, long time. Also I like the emotional journey he goes on he starts scared and he ends up in a million different emotions and I really like getting into that mixture, trying to get all of them to work at the same time, it’s a bit of a challenge.”
This show is particularly important to Splinters because it is part of their 25 project, where every couple of years they take on a slightly bigger show and invite back old members to join in. Jess, who’s playing the female lead Mary Magdalene explained why she liked the community feeling of Splinters so much: “It is like a family, you start so young and then you’re here right up until you’re 30, and then you come back for Splinters 25 afterwards – everyone’s so nice and gets a long so well.” Ross lovingly referred to the theatre company as a “brilliant machine” in which everyone has a part, and working together is what helps them to achieve their brilliance.
As well as their amazing community spirit, Splinters are known for their big finales. Director Ian said that the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack allows them to live up to this reputation. “Well without wishing to spoil the show, I think everybody knows the ending, and it’s not the happiest ending of shows for obvious reasons, I still wanted to have a big dance number near the end of the show and thankfully with Superstar we’ve got that, which is of course the main theme tune for the show anyway.” With that in mind it makes Jesus Christ Superstar a must-see this weekend!