Sweeney Todd, Trafalgar Studios, London
Friday 30 July 2004
Stephen Sondheim's gory musical masterpiece Sweeney Todd goes for the jugular with the surest aim when it is presented as an intimate chamber work.
This wonderfully fresh and fierce, small-scale version directed and designed by John Doyle, which originated at Newbury's Watermill Theatre, has landed in London for a run at the Trafalgar Studios.
This production kicks off with the Demon Barber's creepy resurrection from a coffin that remains centre-stage. Dispensing with a detailed panorama of London, this staging immures us in what appears to be the operating theatre of a Victorian asylum.
Here the story of revenge and insanity, mass murder and its cannibalistic by-products, unfolds like some endlessly recurring nightmare. Now an inmate in this establishment, the boy Toby, the one mad survivor of the Todd ménage, is released from his gag and straitjacket to become a troubled spectator and participant.
Realism is ditched in favour of a brilliantly expressive symbolic approach. The splendid cast of nine double as musicians, their instruments becoming weird extensions of their characters' personalities, particularly the disturbed flute of Sam Kenyon's excellent Toby.
There is no conventional barber's chair or trapdoor into the cellar: instead, the throat-slittings are registered by a screaming whistle, a blinding red glare, and a bucket of blood tipped into the coffin by some ironically appropriate figure. The fluidity of Doyle's directorial concept allows the characters to configure in dreamlike patterns of psychological association and wish-projection.
The singing is not first-rate, but what the production sometimes lacks in technical finesse, it makes up in atmosphere, ensemble spirit, versatility and acumen.
Karen Mann is very funny as the pie-making Mrs Lovett, a camp old would-be dolly bird who buffs up the instruments of Todd's sordid trade with the oblivious cheeriness of someone scrubbing spuds. Paul Hegarty is a compellingly driven and underlyingly sad Sweeney, a man who starts off as a crusader against judicial hypocrisy but who, corrupted by obsession, becomes an indiscriminate killer. In an acute touch here, he offers his knife and his throat to Toby at the end. This is true tragedy: Sweeney's recognition that he has travelled way beyond redemption. An enriching detail that, like the production as a whole, offers a triumphantly new angle on a supreme piece of musical theatre.
Booking to 9 October (0870 060 6632)
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Planes go hybrid-electric in important step to greener flight
- 2 Christmas comes early to Hong Kong, as millions of bank notes spill out onto busy street
- 3 Antonio Martin shooting: Police and protesters clash over teenager's death just five miles from Ferguson, Missouri
- 4 Northern Lights above Britain: Stunning Aurora Borealis illuminates Northumberland sky on Christmas Eve
- 5 British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Christmas Day TV guide 2014: What to watch from Strictly Come Dancing to the story of Frozen
Best underrated Christmas movies: From Trading Places to While You Were Sleeping
Game of Thrones season five: First preview clip shows a beardy Tyrion, a moody Cersei and a distressed Arya
The Interview is finally released after Sony hack and terror threats – but reviews of North Korea satire are mixed
Christmas TV guide 2014: The best shows to watch from Doctor Who to Downton Abbey
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food