In the Millennium Forum local productions form the lynchpin of each season’s programme - and can easily hold their own against some of the country’s most successful touring shows.
The Millennium Forum Youth Theatre Group is no exception - for the past five years they have been delivering musical masterpieces to delight audiences hungry for a good night at the theatre.
But this year, things are set to take a more macabre turn when the cast turn their hands to the darkly comic and often disturbing tale of Sweeney Todd, the demon barber of Fleet Street with their adaptation of the 1979 Sondheim musical - due to run at the Forum at the start of next month.
This musical tells of the demented barber who was unjustly convicted and transported to Australia by a wicked judge who coveted his wife. Upon his return the barber takes the name Sweeney Todd, and begins his general and particular revenge by slitting the throats of his clients, who are then turned into meat pies by his industrious accomplice, Mrs Lovett.
Set in London’s 19th Century lamp-lit alleyways, this dark masterly mix of black comedy and sombre tragedy will be performed by an all-local youth cast. Brace yourself for this macabre extravaganza of cannibalism and carnage.
In the lead roles will be up and coming actors Sharon Duffy, from Grangemore, and Keith Lynch from the Waterside - who admit the roles are proving to be exceptionally challenging.
“I underestimated just how challenging the role of Mrs Lovett would be,” 19-years-old Sharon, who plays Todd’s murderous accomplice, said. “For the last month it has been my life - the songs are constantly running through my head and I have the CD on continually.
“It is a dream role - and one I want to do absolute justice to,” Sharon, who has been acting since the age of four revealed.
Her co-star Keith Lynch, who only caught the acting bug a few years ago, says he feels “honoured” to be playing the lead role of Sweeney Todd, following in the steps of actor Johnny Depp who brought the role to public noteriety in the 2007 film of the musical, directed by Tim Burton.
Keith says, however, that no matter how dark the film the stage show brings an extra layer of depth to the piece. “In ways it is a little darker than the film and yes, that is a challenge.
But the role of Sweeney Todd is one of the most sought after on the stage and once I was offered it, there was no way I could turn it down. It really is a dream role.”
Both Sharon and Keith are setting their sights on acting careers - but both have taken very different paths to achieve their dreams.
Sharon has been acting since she was four, when she started out with the Foyle School of Speech and Drama under the tuition of Sandra Biddle. She has steadfastly followed her dream and this will be her fourth production with the Forum’s Youth Theatre Group.
“When I first joined Jonathan (Burgess) said the best thing I could do was work my way up from the chorus and that is what I have done. I was a chorus member in our production of Les Miserables and have worked up through productions of West Side Story and Chess to the role now of Mrs Lovett.”
In addition Sharon has cut her acting teeth with Belfast based drama group MT4uth - which last year saw her compete on the Channel 5, Glee inspired, reality TV show ‘Don’t Stop Believing’.
Having taken a year out of her studies to focus on her ambitions, the former Thornhill College pupil has recently secured a place at the presitgious Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts - whose alumni reads likes a ‘Who’s Who’ of the West End and who can boast Dame Judi Dench as their patron.
The London based drama school, which was a training ground for Amanda Holden (currently starring in ‘Shrek the Musical’) and Connie Fisher who rose to fame playing Maria in the West End production of ‘The Sound of Music’ after she won the lead role in the BBC talent show ‘How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?’
The Derry girl has gone one step further than most and secured a bursary to cover her fees at the coveted school - and is very excited about the adventure which lies ahead.
“Mountview has an incredible reputation and will give me a great grounding in everything I need. As well as straight acting they have a brilliant vocal skills department and I will be given the chance to train with the best in the country. It is a real dream come true for me.
“And I do feel that my background here in Derry, and my time at the Millennium Forum, will have stood me in good stead for what lies ahead.”
Keith’s journey to the stage has been a little less orthodox. Indeed it wasn’t until his final year at school in Foyle College that he first graced the stage in an acting role.
“I had been involved with the Britannia Band so had been involved playing the trumpet with some of the shows with the Londonderry Musical Society but it wasn’t until my final year at school, when the school put on a production of ‘Annie’ that I got the bug.”
Keith took on the role of Rooster - the criminal brother of Miss Hannigan - and he said the experience changed his life. “Until then I was very determined I was going into teaching and had secured a place at Stranmillis to study, but this made me seriously consider my options.”
Dedicated to the teaching profession, Keith went on to study for his degree is now a qualified primary school teacher, specialising in music. But he continues to feed his passion for acting having recently performed in Frankenstein, The Musical. He also continues to work with the Londonderry Musical Society.
His role in Sweeney Todd is his first with the Millennium Forum Youth Theatre Group and like Sharon he knows that all eyes will be on him on opening night.
“This is really our chance to stand out,” he said, “The roles were so hotly contested there is a certain pressure to make it work on stage.”
“To have a lead role such as this gives you a chance to showcase your talent,” Sharon added. “It’s a brilliant opportunity.”
Both Sharon and Keith paid tribute to director Jonathan Burgess for his faith in them and his support. “He is the best in his field and I have learned so much from working with him.”
Sharon added: “I owe so much to Jonathan Burgess, who has been with me through thick and thin and who has helped me rise through the ranks from the chorus to the lead roles. He has been brilliant.”
SWEENEY TODD performs at the Millennium Forum from Thursday 4th to Saturday 6th August.
Tickets are now available from the Box Office. Telephone 71 264455 or visit www.millenniumforum.co.uk for bookings.