Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim book by Hugh Wheeler.
Chichester Festival Theatre Oaklands Park PO19 6AP To 5 November 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat 12, 15, 18, 21, 22, 26, 29 Oct, 3, 5 Nov 2.15pm.
Audio-described 21 Oct 7.30pm, 28 Oct, 5 Nov 2.15pm.
BSL Signed 26 Oct 7.30pm.
Post-show Discussion 13 Oct.
Runs 2hr 45min One interval.
TICKETS: 01243 781312.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 8 October.
A Sweeney Todd well worth attending.
“Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd…” the chorus sings in Stephen Sondheim’s 1979 musical journey through black emotions and red blood. Sondheim had attended the story as told by British playwright Chris Bond, whose version inhabits Sweeney’s mind with slow-brewed revenge for his wife’s abduction and his own wrongful conviction by Establishment figures.
This develops into general, murderous misanthropy, an exploration of motive matched by the force and fluency of Sondheim’s music and lyrics, and the strength of Jonathan Kent’s Chichester production.
From the start, with Anthony Ward’s designs making the Festival Theatre stage look near-circular, Sweeney’s story spreads among society’s shadows like an urban myth, passed-on by street-scrubbers and coal-heavers.
Michael Ball’s Sweeney, first seen atypically thanking young sea-companion Anthony for saving his life, is barely seen at all – a figure hanging back in the shadows, he finally emerges, his face part-hidden by his black hair. He’s reticent throughout, except when roused at murderous moments or in paroxysms of despair.
Though following Sondheim’s reference to Sweeney as inconspicuous and mild, Ball is unmistakably malevolent as, white-faced, he sinks below the stage. And there’s a terrifying image as he stands in his upstairs barber-shop, denouncing all humanity.
Any positive tone struggles to find expression here. Anthony’s love for Joanna becomes mainly a source of violence or madness. And there’s little room for humour; even the contest with tonsorial mountebank Pirelli is confined to Sweeney diverting crowd attention by stropping.
But there is humour in Imelda Staunton’s Mrs Lovett, moving between resilient and cheery, just as her pies improve dramatically with Sweeney’s new ingredient.
It’s around these characters Kent loosens his historical grip, with Pirelli’s motorised van and Mrs Lovett’s neon shop-sign, while she dresses more early 20th-century than Victorian. Humorous and luminous from the first, Staunton prowls round Sweeney when they meet, checking his identity.
There’s danger too in Pirelli’s interest in Sweeney’s distinctive razors, while the Beggar Woman’s horror at Judge Turpin’s name is explained when her identity’s eventually revealed. Such details show how far Bond, Sondheim, Kent, Ball and Staunton have brought this old urban tale of horror.
Sweeney Todd: Michael Ball.
Anthony: Luke Brady.
Beggar Woman: Gillian Kirkpatrick.
Mrs Lovett: Imelda Staunton.
Johanna: Lucy May Barker.
Judge Turpin: John Bowe.
Beadle Bamford: Peter Polycarpou.
Tobias: James McConville.
Pirelli: Robert Burt.
Jonas Fogg: Simeon Truby.
Ensemble: Valda Aviks, Will Barratt, Josie Benson, Emily Bull, John Coates, Daniel Graham, Robine Landi, Brian McCann, Tim Morgan, Aoife Nally, Adam Pearce, Vincent Pirillo, Wendy Somerville, Anton Stephans, Kerry Washington, Annabelle Williams.
Director: Jonathan Kent.
Designer: Anthony Ward.
Lighting: Mark Henderson.
Sound: Paul Groothuis.
Orchestrator: Jonathan Tunick.
Musical Director: Nicholas Skilbeck.
Movement: Denni Sayers.
Dialect coach: Majella Hurley.
Fight director: Paul Benzing.
Associate director: Lloyd Wood.
Assistant director: Kim Pearce.
Associate Musical director: Andy Rapps.
Associate sound: Ken Hampton.