The demon barber of Fleet Street has landed at Leicester’s Curve theatre this week to share his unforgettable pain and quite sickening addiction to a very close shave. Sweeney Todd is a captivating thriller about a charismatic villain who feels the pain and loss of his wife and child for what seems like an eternity.
Based on Christopher Bond’s play of the same name, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a libretto by Hugh Wheeler, Sweeney Todd tells the story of Benjamin Barker (aka Sweeney Todd) who returns back to London after 15 years penal transportation on fabricated charges. He returns to discover the terrible news that his wife had poisoned herself after being raped by the judge that transported him. Vowing revenge on the man that now acts as the guardian to his sweet maturing daughter Johanna, Sweeney opens a barber shop hoping that one day he might just entice the old judge in for one last close shave and in turn be reunited with his daughter. In seeking revenge with this one man Judge Turpin, Sweeney becomes more sinister and eventually turns on even his closest friends. With the help of Mrs.Lovett, his partner in crime, Sweeney goes as an unnoticed mass murderer that aids the business of his accomplice’s pie shop below with his continual supply of “fresh meat”. Sweeney’s trademark flick of the wrist with his cut-throat razor becomes the final blow on the unsuspecting victim before they are released from his chair, in his own distinctive way to finish off the job, prior to preparation for a good roasting in Mrs.Lovett’s oven.
This twisted tale of a man who felt unjustified by the world has been directed excellently with moments of genuine fear heightened by the tense atmosphere. The opening of the production allows you to enter as a resident of the infamous Fleet Street with the sounds of horse carts and the hustle and bustle of 19th Century London sweeping you in. The use of the entire stage has been permitted for this particular production allowing more visual effects to take place with such simple arrangements. The depth of the stage becomes an illusion to which we are drawn as the ensemble appear as shadows in the background before rising forward to make “Sweeney” a name that reverberates from the walls. Sondheim’s musical score requires much attention to detail and strength of character from the performers. Each solo note that builds up to such momentous harmonies has to be perfected. Sondheim’s specialty in writing duets and quartets puts every performer under pressure and this young community founded cast did not fail to deliver.
The depth and complexity of the characters is heightened by the minimalistic effects and creative design. The basic materials, with scaffolding and metal corrugated fencing creating the main framework of Mrs.Lovett’s pie shop and Sweeney’s upstairs barbers, combined with the simple lighting phases allow the raw talent of the actors to shine through and really take on the thriller in their own style and way. The dark and gloomy stage surrounded by blood-spilt rags acts as a fantastic backdrop and a real invitation into Sweeney’s dark and sinister world.
Though the storyline is very dark, the comedic elements and the whirlwind romance between Johanna and Anthony (a friend of Sweeney) bring lightness to the plot and forms memorable characters that the audience begin to favour. When Bond originally received the melodrama he admitted, “It didn’t need doctoring, it needed a heart transplant”. With the direction he gave to the play there became an ability to interact with different kinds of audiences and interest those who perhaps enjoy light-hearted theatre as oppose to serious stripped back acting. Paul Kerryson’s take on the play has revealed all the genres that are touched upon in this exciting thriller. The innocence of Johanna and the passion of Anthony create a heart-wrenching love story within the overall plot along with Mrs.Lovett and the unforgettable Pirelli who bring humour to the story. Musical Director, Ben Atkinson despite being young has pulled out another astonishing arrangement for the cast of Sweeney Todd to rise to.
The musical numbers in this production have been carefully directed and perfected with attention to detail from Artistic Director, Paul Kerryson. With beautiful and harmonious duets that I would deem worthy of the West End, this show has been both a surprising and breath-taking event. Vocally captivating numbers like “Kiss Me” and “My Friends” leave a lasting impression of the score mastered by Sondheim. To know that the cast is formed of young creative talented performers from in and around the Leicestershire area should be an inspiration to all.
Sweeney Todd continues at Leicester’s Curve Studio theatre until 11th August 2013. For tickets go to www.curveonline.co.uk or contact the Box Office on 0116 242 3595.
By Sarah Chetwyn