Sweeney's So sharp

~ Phil Hewitt - 16/10/2011 ~

Director Jonathan Kent's wickedly-funny production of Sweeney Todd offers a genuinely-thrilling treat to round off the 2011 season at Chichester Festival Theatre.

Michael Ball, almost unrecognisable, is every bit as brilliant as you could wish as the vengeful barber who goes on a killing spree after his family is shattered by a judge a perverted cruelty.

Assisted by Mark Henderson's excellened lightning, Ball is a brooding, menacing presence, vicious in the extreme, but also powerfully poignant - the embodiment of evil, but an evil you can understand.

The night's real revelation, though, is Imelda Staunton as a remarkably chipper rs, Lovett, a survivor cheerily serving up Todd's customers to feed her own.

She's hilarious as she persuades herself they've got a respectable business going: but she too has the power to move with her dreams of impossible happiness.

Between them, Ball and Staunton, a terrific double act throughout, deliver the evening's highlight: The duet A Little Priest, with Staunton's comic timing, as ever, one of the great delights of the night.

But the show's not just about the two main stars.

It's thae staging that let's them soar as Anthony Ward's design takes us from Todd's murder chamber to Mrs. Lovett's disgustong kitchen and then down into their hell-like cellars, dominated by their flaming oven and their hideaous mincing machine.

John Bowe as Judge Turpin and Peter Polycarpou as Beadle Bamford offer excellent support as Stephen Sondheim's dark tale gets ever darker, as it plunges towards its chilling conclusion.

Musical director Nicholas Skilbeck is a sure hand behind the songs, many kilarious, many touching and many deeply sinister.

Sweeney Todd and Singin' in the RAin - could there possibly be two more contrasting musicals? - have shown us the CFT at the absolute top of its game this summer.

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