THEATRE Sweeney Todd Leicester Haymarket
Friday 22 November 1996
It reminded me of the equivalently false moment at the end of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd when the chorus turns on the audience and implies that we are all responsible, in our hypocritical righteousness, for making Sweeney a mass murderer. To which the only answer is: "Speak for yourself, guv". It's just about the solitary duff note struck in a show that the more I see the more I'm convinced is one of the greatest pieces of music drama written since the war - a stunning study of love warped by injustice to an obsessional vengefulness and Sondheim's likeliest passport to immortality.
In one of the many beautifully judged touches of Paul Kerryson's exhilarating revival of the piece at the Leicester Haymarket, the chorus, who sing with a wonderfully baleful edge, are seen clutching their throats and sinking into a pit of blood-red mist. What we focus on, finally, is the murderous effect of Sweeney, not on the causes of his crimes. This isn't a production that underestimated the hero by presenting Dave Willetts's powerfully acted Sweeney as predominately a victim-figure. Likewise, the demon barber's idea that he is somehow cleansing society of its two-faced oppressors is neatly belied by the way the customers are here all young, poor men, hardly on a par power-wise with Mark Rope's finely sung, villainous Judge Turpin.
The first Broadway and West End productions of this show were both vast, horribly over-produced affairs. Since then the virtues of stripped-down, unnervingly intimate stagings have been explored, not least in Declan Donnellan's 1993 Cottesloe revival. Kerryson's production solves the problem of getting that close-to intensity and cleanness of focus on a large stage. The stark scaffolding and the mobile gantreys that can rise and fall to create bridges, streets and balconies make clear statements with a splendidly uncluttered flexibility. The barber's shop and Mrs Lovett's parlour are a swivellable truck-set within a set. You get the sense of society as an industrial machine that can't be escaped, for all Mrs Lovett's would- be genteel knick-knacks, even in her piss-elegant parlour where the walls are here constructed from sheets of sooty corrugated iron.
In this role of amoral, obsessively adoring accomplice in crime, Jeanette Ranger is knock-out, both vocally and dramatically. There's a chilling comic discrepancy between her comfortably plump, maternal presence and that mental cut-out from ordinary human feeling which enables her to do anything to hold on to Sweeney and her dreams of sweet domesticity. This Lovett reminds you that many people described Rosemary West as motherly. Her performance, with its cheerful and eerily seamless volte-faces, and that of Stuart de la Mere's deeply affecting Toby (which has no touch of the Dick Van Dyke syndrome that made the creator of the role on Broadway so wincingly hilarious) stand out in an impressive cast. To adapt the words of the chorus: Attend this tail of Sweeney Todd.
To 7 Dec. Booking: 0116-253 0021
MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word
Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says
Review: One Direction, Fourmusic
Review: The World of Ice and Firebooks
Film More romcom than S&M
Review: The Imitation Gamefilm
Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars
TVNetflix gets cryptic
TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth
Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 'Not suppost to cry': 9-year-old lists the worst things about being a boy
- 2 Iggy Azalea responds to Eminem rape lyrics: 'I'm bored of old men threatening young women'
- 3 Woman opens professional cuddling shop – gets 10,000 customers in first week
- 4 Lana Del Rey rape video: Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking leaked footage
- 5 Winnie the Pooh banned from Polish playground for being 'inappropriate hermaphrodite'
Lee Evans announces his retirement from comedy on The Jonathan Ross Show
Iggy Azalea responds to Eminem rape lyrics: 'I'm bored of old men threatening young women'
Angelina Jolie confirms retirement from acting: 'I've never been comfortable on-screen'
Lana Del Rey rape video: Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking leaked footage
Willow and Jaden Smith talk duality of apples, holographic realities and the melancholia of the ocean in incredible New York Times interview
Rochester by-election: Ukip gains second MP as Tory defector Mark Reckless holds seat
'Muslims pre-date Columbus in discovering America,' says Turkish president Erdogan
'Beast of Bolsover' Dennis Skinner takes Ukip MP Mark Reckless to task moments after he is sworn in
Rochester by-election: Labour MP Emily Thornberry resigns after posting white van and England flags tweet
France 'blocks' Russian sailors from boarding a warship
Former Tory PM Sir John Major says 'we would not have an NHS without migrants'