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)
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Students heading off to 'charity challenge' grounded at Gatwick after travel firm goes bust
- 2 Notting Hill Carnival: Woman shares selfie after being ‘punched in face for telling man to stop groping her’
- 3 Daily Show's Jon Stewart destroys Fox News for its Ferguson coverage
- 4 When elitism grips the top of British society to this extent, there is only one answer: abolish private schools
- 5 Like Jennifer Aniston, I am no less of a woman because I am childless
Great British Bake Off 2014: Diana Beard quits after falling ill
Friends reunion: Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow and Courteney Cox perform mini sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live
Strictly Come Dancing v X Factor: Simon Cowell blasts BBC over scheduling war
Doctor Who series 8: Ofcom will not investigate lesbian kiss
Burning Man Festival 2014: Thousands gather in Nevada's Black Rock Desert a day late after rain postponed official start
Exclusive: We share blame for creating 'jihad generation', says Muslim strategist
Robin Williams Emmys tribute led by Billy Crystal criticised for including 'racist' joke about Muslim woman
The Rotherham child abuse scandal is a tale of apologists, misogyny and double standards
Scottish independence TV debate: Pumped-up Alex Salmond bounces back in bruising second round against Alistair Darling
Do you realise just how foolish the UK looks?
Ukip Douglas Carswell defection: Tory MP jumps ship to join Nigel Farage
- < Previous
- Next >