music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim book by Hugh Wheeler.
Octagon Theatre Howell Croft South BL1 1SB To 2 July 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat 25, 29 June 2pm.
Audio-described 30 June.
Runs 2hr 50min One interval.
TICKETS: 01204 520661.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 18 July.
Razor-and-pies musical over-spiced with a bit too much production.
Having cut her Octagonal teeth on two fine Dickensian Christmas shows, Assistant Director Elizabeth Newman now has her follicles challenged with another feature of David Thacker’s Octagon regime, the end-of-season musical-play – this year, another slice of dark Victoriana.
British playwright Chris Bond has adapted several popular Victorian melodramas, infusing them with shots of theatrical sophistication and dramatic motivation. Bond’s changing of Sweeney Todd from mere bloodthirsty criminal to a revenger against the powerful wrongdoer, and subsequent malcontent against the world, with unintended consequences, attracted American Stephen Sondheim to use his version as starting-point for this musical. Its songs mix intense personal obsession and stylistically broader pastiches of popular 19th-century musical idioms.
Newman’s account of The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is stronger on the demoniality than the Street – though the community chorus helpfully fills out the crowds massing around Mrs Lovett’s pie-shop when her appalling products are transformed after Sweeney moves in upstairs and his cut-throat barbering economically, if temporarily, assuages his revenge-lust and the popular hunger for meat pies.
This chorus also helpfully creates bedlam, crowded on a high balcony, part of designer Lucy Sierra’s abstract set of grills and platforms. It’s through one of these that Tobias Beer’s Sweeney appears, a figure from hell, with his violin – later accompanied by Ruth Alexander Rubin’s Mrs Lovett – a child-scaring urban myth in the making.
While presenting London as an abstract hell’s kitchen increases the sense of an internal obsession, this is at the cost of the young lovers Anthony and Johanna, who can make little impact in this Sweeney. And realistic elements can be surprisingly clumsy: the barber ‘death-trap’ chair is underwhelming, the chute for dispatching carcases to be turned into ingredients elaborately obtrusive.
Over-amplification divorces voices from the people onstage Actors play instruments, with Sweeney’s violin-bow doubling as his razor, an unconvincing stylisation which increases the sense of obsession while disallowing that even the obsessed move within an outside reality. And several aggressively modern objects deny the sense that this is a world seen through a Victorian obsessive’s mind. A pity, in what’s part-way to a fine, grim evening.
Anthony Hope: John Addison.
Jonas Fogg: Tom Attwood.
Tobias Ragg: Adam Barlow.
Sweeney Todd: Tobias Beer.
Pirelli/Bird Seller: Clara Darcy.
The Beadle: Lloyd Gorman.
Judge Turpin: Mark Heenehan.
Beggar Woman: Barbara Hockaday.
Mrs Lovett: Ruth Alexander Rubin.
Johanna: Sarah Vezmar.
Community company: Adam Atkinson, Anne Bain, Christian Brabin, Conrad Cowley, Caroline Garcia-Cox, Lynne Glen, James Harty, Hayley Jackson, Andrea Lancaster, Dan Mehers, Eleanor Molloy, George D Sharpe, Anthony L Ward, Louise Wilson, John Wright.
Director: Elizabeth Newman.
Designer: Lucy Sierra.
Lighting: Ciaran Bagnall.
Sound: Andy Smith.
Music Director: Tom Attwood.
Movement director: Lesley Hutchison.
Costume: Mary Horan.