Sweeney Todd – Mercury Theatre, Colchester. 8/11/16
I am a great fan of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd and since its 1979 premiere, the story has been retold many times both on stage and of course the 2008 film starring Johnny Depp. I can also sadly admit I know the whole show almost word for word, so it was with a mixture of trepidation and excitement I went to watch Sweeney Todd at the Mercury Theatre.
I was not disappointed, this version at the Mercury Theatre does not lose any of the power and drama associated with the piece as well as showing a lighter side to the sombre proceedings which the audience last night loved. In particular, the revolving set was a masterpiece providing a great backdrop which kept the entire performance moving throughout and not just in the physical sense. The ‘Johanna’ number in Act Two was aided spectacularly by the slow revolve. That along with superb costumes and lighting and a strong cast it had all the ingredients for a delicacy, not of Mrs Lovetts making, but one that certainly left you wanting more.
Without a doubt, the star of the show was Sophie-Louise Dunn as Mrs Lovett. Her portrayal showed nuances of Angela Lansbury but with a characterisation that was completely her own, right from her first number ‘Worst Pies in London’ through to my personal highlight of the show her rendition of ‘By the Sea’. In contrast Hugh Maynard as Sweeney Todd, I felt lacked some of the depth and darkness I expected from the role and I never felt he found the true depths of despair in the character, going from a vengeful barber into a demonic serial killer. He struggled vocally in places being overwhelmed by the orchestra but there was still a vulnerability at the end of the show, which left you feeling truly sorry for the man who had mercilessly killed so many for his own pleasure. Both Sophie-Louise Dunn and Hugh Maynard worked seamlessly together on Sondheim’s masterpiece ‘A Little Priest’ giving an excellent end to Act One.
The rest of the cast all had strong personas in their performances, Jack Wilcox and Christine Bennington as Anthony and Johanna sang perfectly and were very believable as the love-struck couple in those dark Victorian times, Kara Lane showed us the two lives of the deranged Beggar Woman giving us an insight to Todd’s troubled past, Ryan Heenan was naïve and vulnerable as Tobias and David Durham had power and great stage presence as Judge Turpin, although I have never personally liked the inclusion of ‘Johanna-Mea Culpa’ in the show. There were two particularly commendable performances for me, from Simon Shorten as Adolfo Pirelli and Julian Hoult as the Beadle. Simon Shorten was full of life and verve giving colour and expression to the fake Italian while Julian Hoult had all the greasiness and deliciously menacing traits as the Beadle- both truly enjoyable performances to watch. It was also a pleasure to see additional chorus members from the local community – although you would never have known that, had it not been mentioned in the programme and it gave the added numbers needed on stage for a piece like this which are often somewhat lacking in professional productions.
The Orchestra under the baton of Musical Director, Michael Haslam was a pure joy and Director, Daniel Buckroyd found so many elements throughout the piece giving attention to the smallest of details allowing the audience to submerge themselves into the gloomy and dismal world of Fleet Street.
I personally was delighted to witness this production and that we have such delights available on our doorstep. With just a few more days to see this production, I strongly urge you if you have not yet seen it, to get tickets and revel in the drama and musical genius of Stephen Sondheim played to such a high quality outside the West End.