MUSICAL / A really close shave: Paul Taylor reviews the National's Sweeney Todd
Friday 04 June 1993
Indeed, people in the stalls may become conscious that, as they look up to the high platform where Todd's tonsorial parlour is positioned, they tilt their heads back in just the manner of his victims in the barber's chair. In a touch typical of the simple, fluid and, at times, dreamlike clarity of the staging, the perverted Judge (excellent Denis Quilley) who is the focus of Todd's revenge delivers a sentence of death on some poor youth while enthroned on this seat of his eventual undoing. Throughout, Donnellan uses the chorus as a key presence, having them cluster round Todd and lay supportive hands on his shoulder. Eerily, they persist in seeing him as a mythic hero and conveniently ignore the fact that in the course of his revenge on corrupt society, innocent folk are as likely as the wicked to end up as pie-filling.
Obsession, rather than social injustice, is the theme that most animates this work and Sondheim's superb score. To take one example: returning to London after 15 years in enforced exile, Todd discovers that his wife has been driven to her death and his daughter made a ward of court by the evil Judge. In a brilliant stroke to indicate the onset of abnormality, Sondheim has him displace his affections, singing a rapt song of loving reunion to the gleaming blades of his old razors. His intense absorption (so much more disturbing than rant) is reinforced by the fact that he doesn't even notice the parallel outpourings of Mrs Lovett, the pie-shop owner who is equally monothematic about him.
Alun Armstrong occasionally sings out of tune and lacks any of the sexual charisma that would make Mrs Lovett's long- standing crush plausible (which was not the case when Quilley played the part). He's an excellent actor, though, and with that knobbly face lit up with a sickly, brooding monomania, he has no difficulty in keeping you gripped. Among a strong cast, Adrian Lester is in beautiful voice as the young romantic sailor, and Barry James makes a strikingly repulsive Beadle. Definitive is the only word to sum up Julia McKenzie's Mrs Lovett. Under a cockade of green feathers that looks like a neglected pot plant, she gives a hilarious, chilling demonstration of a woman who'd like to think she was a respectable, sentimental old softie, at heart, even while running a human pie shop. Gizzard slittin' good.
Grace Dent on TVtv
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated
tvAn expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle
artLee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist
‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Heavy metal producer's corpse to be mutilated by models as per his dying wish
- 2 Man who held up 'hire me' sign at Waterloo station returns a year later with 'I'm hiring' sign
- 3 Nineteen-year-old student left gifts for parents before taking her own life
- 4 Deliberately urinating before sex can increase risk of urinary tract infections
- 5 Winston Churchill: From accusations of anti-Semitism to the blunt refusal that led to the deaths of millions
British Muslim leaders outraged after Eric Pickles says followers of Islam should 'prove their identity'
UK terror fears: My jihadist son returned from Syria mentally scarred – now he is being ignored
Nigel Farage: NHS might have to be replaced by private health insurance
Billy Crystal: 'Stop shoving gay sex scenes in my face'
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
David Cameron says anyone criticising Eric Pickles' letter to Muslims 'really has a problem'