Sweeney Todd, Adelphi Theatre

~ The Bucks Herrald - 23/03/12 ~

Does the new production of Sondheim’s classic, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, deserve all its screaming praise? Carrie Martindale went to find out.

The show summed up in one sentence… A deliciously dark drama, full of macabre melodies, show-stopping scenery and glorious gore.

Who should see it? Sondheim aficionados and fans of the original show or story will love it. Any stalwart Michael Ball groupies might be a little bit shocked though!  

I’m going to cut to the chase with this review. If you’re looking for an all-singing, all-dancing, feel-good musical spectacular, then you’re in the wrong place. Think less musical, more opera. An operetta in fact, as my theatrical companion put it; and as a relative newcomer to the world of musicals, having seen less than ten in the last couple of years, Sweeney Todd was a revelation to me.

Next, let’s get the casting out of the way (I told you this was going to be cutthroat). “Boyish-faced, goody-goody Michael Ball playing the malevolent Mr Todd?” I hear you cry with scorn. Yes, and he’s quite literally bloody brilliant. I hear tell that with his slicked hair, beard, dark eye makeup and grimy appearance; even his own partner doesn’t recognise him.

In true Victorian melodrama, the show opens to a gloomy set, amidst a murky mist that Dickens would have described as a London particular. An industrial, multi-level set from Anthony Ward creates ghoulish shadows, all greys and browns, until that red chair takes centre stage.

As the company sings the incredibly catchy introductory number, The Ballad of Sweeney Todd, Ball rises from the grave to Sondheim’s aggressive and climactic organ music, and audiences’ thoughts couldn’t be further from Love Changes Everything. And I’m still humming that first tune to myself now.

It’s a well-known tale. Benjamin Barker, alias Sweeney Todd, returns to London after 15 years' transportation in Australia on trumped charges. When he finds out that his wife poisoned herself after being raped by the judge who transported him, he vows revenge on the judge and later, the whole world. He teams up with pie-maker, Mrs Lovett, and opens a barbershop in which he slits the throats of customers and has them baked into pies.


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