Sweeney Todd at Trafalgar Studio

Tuesday, 27 July, 2004
Review by: 
Alan Bird

Sweeney Todd was an eighteenth century barber who slashed the throats of his customers before stripping the flesh from their bodies. The human flesh was then used as pie filling by his accomplish Mrs Lovett, and sold to an unsuspecting public. It is believed that 160 victims may have ended up as meat pies, devoured by the ravenous patrons of Mrs Lovett’s shop.

Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd is not a motiveless mad man who butchers his victims merely for sadistic pleasure and financial gain. Instead his Sweeney Todd serves “a dark and a hungry God” called revenge. Todd is seeking retribution on the judge who had him transported on false charges in order to seduce his wife.

John Doyle’s small-scale production has the cast of nine remain on stage throughout. Their continuous presence, and the fact that the stage is congested with props, helps to create a sense of suffocation and inner turmoil, which suits this intense psychological musical thriller.

The cast not only bring their characters to life but also the music, as they sing and play a variety of musical instruments. Mrs Lovett no sooner finishes cleaning her saw and axe, and she is blowing her trumpet! Other instruments played by the cast include piano, cello, flute and accordion.

Karen Mann is wonderful as the amoral Mrs Lovett, a tawdry, mutton dressed as lamb, floozy. Her mocking plaintive tones as she sings of “Her worst pies in London”, turns into a jig of rapture as she looks forward to growing rich upon the free meat provided by Sweeney Todd, “Seems a downright shame. Seems an awful waste. Such a nice plump frame” she intones with barely concealed delight. Sam Kenyon (Tobias) leads the ensemble in “The Ballad Of Sweeney Todd” and exuberates energy as he moves up and down the aisles engaging with the audience.

Paul Hegarty is a disappointing Sweeney Todd. When we first meet him he is suitably melancholic and full of spite as he seeks revenge, but his persona never changes as his blood lust increases. “To seek revenge may lead to hell”, the ensemble sing of Sweeny Todd, whichever hell that is, it is not the hell of a criminally insane mind.

With the exception of Sam Kenyon as ‘Tobias’ and David Ricardo-Pearce as ‘Anthony’ , none of the cast have exceptional voices, however the production more than makes up for this downfall with the sheer versatility of the ensemble and the dark suspense they create on stage.


What other critics had to say.....
FIONA MOUNTFORD for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "As sharp as ever...The versatility on offer is spectacular.." PAUL TAYLOR for THE INDEPENDENT says, "Wonderfully fresh and fierce small-scale version." MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, "strong on melodramatic horror, low on social resonance." CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "Superbly inventive staging." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "Theatrical originality and a successful awakening of the audience’s imaginations." SARAH HEMMIMG for THE FINANCIAL TIMES says, "Sondheim's musical emerges here as keen as a razor."

External links to full reviews from popular press
The Guardian
The Independent
Daily Telegraph
The Times
Financial Times

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