music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim book by Hugh Wheeler.
Royal Exchange Theatre St Ann’s Square M2 7DH To 30 November 2013.
Mon-Fri 7.30pm no performance 18 Nov Sat 8pm Mat Wed & 12, 21 Nov 2.30pm; Sat 3.30pm.
Audio-described 12 Nov 3.30pm.
BSL Signed 26 Nov.
Captioned 22 Nov.
TICKETS: 0161 833 9833.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 5 November.
Do attend this tale of Sweeney Todd.
Among the theatrical glories from James Brining’s time at Dundee Rep is this production of what many regard as Stephen Sondheim’s musical masterpiece. The production’s English premiere transfers from Brining’s new HQ, Leeds’ West Yorkshire Playhouse, to Manchester’s Royal Exchange, heralding a collaboration between two major playhouses on England’s theatre-rich ‘M62 strip’.
Still, crossing the Pennines has been bold, involving a staging in the round. At first the piece sits awkwardly surrounded by its audience. The small band is separated from the singers, making vocal and instrumental elements seem disparate. And when the infamous barber’s chair, Sweeney’s means of revenge against London, arrives there can be no vertical disposal of corpses from Todd’s tonsorial parlour to Mrs Lovett’s bakery. Instead, they go by horizontal transit in what looks like an in-house tram system.
The pleasure of Sondheim’s inventive, natural-seeming lyrics and variety in his score is occasionally compromised by updating. The 20th-century furnishings affect several scenes. Often enough it’s harmless, but can seem at odds with the folk-like, street-song flavour of some numbers.
Yet what starts problematic gains intensity by the second half as the action gains a symphonic sweep with the theatre’s gallery incorporated into events, creating the sense of a busy city. The proximity of characters intensifies the psychology of Todd’s bitter anger at the man who seduced his wife and now imprisons his daughter, the fresh, flowing music of the hopeful young Anthony and Johanna, and the bitter-tinged waltzes linked with the roguish pleasure of Gillian Bevan as Sweeney’s partner in crime, Mrs Lovett, who finds a new lease of life when he moves in and her pie-shop becomes the toast of the town – until the mood, and their music, darken bitterly as Sweeney discovers her own deception.
The switchback of life and death, the near-misses, the tragedies just averted have an immediacy partly down to Brining’s staging, partly to David Birrell’s Todd. His surface politeness suggests a nature unwillingly skewed toward violence, without diminishing the intensity of that violence – seen in his free-swipes at customers’ necks and anticipated pleasure behind the obsequiousness towards his core victims
Mrs Lovett: Gillian Bevan.
Sweeney Todd: David Birrell.
Jonas Fogg: Ian Caddick.
Beggar Woman: Barbara Drennan.
Judge Turpin: Din Gallaagher.
Anthony Hope: Michael Peavoy.
Johanna: Niamh Perry.
Beadle: Sévan Stephan.
Tobias Ragg: Ben Stott.
Chorus: Jason Broderick, Eleanor Fanyinka, Joshua Manning, Abiola Ogunbiyi, Corinna Powlesland.
Director: James Brining.
Designer: Colin Richmond.
Lighting: Chris Davey.
Sound: Richard Brooker.
Musical Supervisor/Orchestrator: David Shrubsole.
Musical Director: George Dyer.
Movement/Choreographer: Nick Winston.
Fight director: Renny Krupinski.
Assistant director: Sadie Spencer.
Associate sound: Ross Portway.