Sweeney Todd, Adelphi Theatre

~ The Independent on Sunday - 25/03/12 ~

Simon McBurney brings dazzling technology to his Bulgakov adaptation but little clarity. A Sondheim evergreen, meanwhile, is as fresh as ever
Sunday 25 March 2012

Moving on swiftly to the demon barber of Fleet Street, Sondheim's dark musical Sweeney Todd, starring Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton, is set in a sooty inferno, scarred by blades of light. Iron stairs spiral down to the bowels of Mrs Lovett's pie shop, where an oven belches smoke and the gore-splattered corpses pile up. The serial killer stands on high, his cut-throat razor flashing silver, as he swears to avenge the injustices he has suffered.

Maybe director Jonathan Kent's spotlit tableaux border on the hammy in this transfer from Chichester. The 1930s costumes don't fit the Victorian references (Beadles and Botany Bay). And Sweeney's long-lost daughter (Lucy May Barker) seems a bland goody-goody. Essentially, though, Sondheim's score still thrills, evoking folk ballads with a jagged edginess. Ball is frighteningly morose, this typically chirpy performer transmogrified into a hulking psychopath, with a greasy forelock and ghoulishly pallid face. Though her singing voice isn't as storming as his, Staunton's Lovett is far from outshone, bustling around with terrific comic timing. She is also genuinely sweet on Sweeney, though a merciless profiteer.

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