Mercury Theatre, Colchester – until 12 November 2016
“Because the lives of the wicked should be made brief. For the rest of us death will be a relief.” A handful of cancelled performances due to production design problems meant I missed Sweeney Todd when it opened in Derby but fortunately, it being a co-production with Colchester’s Mercury meant that I was able to fit it in to what has been a most hectic schedule this October. And I’m glad I did, for Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s musical proves once again to be an evergreen classic and Daniel Buckroyd’s production here makes that case, whilst still establishing its own spin.
Most notably, it comes in the casting of Hugh Maynard as the titular Demon Barber of Fleet Street, for much as I’d love us to be in a place where it doesn’t matter, it still feels important to note that he is the first black man to play the role professionally in the UK. And from his very first utterance, you’re left in no doubt whatsoever that he’s more than up to the task, giving us a viscerally angry Sweeney, his fury his defining characteristic right up until the finale.
And around him, Buckroyd has assembled a crack company. Sophie-Louise Dann marshals her innate exuberance marvelously to give us a vibrant but never overdone Mrs Lovett, Jack Wilcox and Christina Bennington sparkle as lovebirds (and tuneful songbirds) Anthony and Joanna, and David Durham makes the most of the air of repressed sexuality as a randier judge than perhaps we’re used to seeing (something echoed in the violence of the crowd scenes).
Sara Perks’ design keeps things strictly Victorian but beautifully so with its split-level revolve and Michael Haslam’s musical direction keeps the complexity of Sondheim’s score under control. Having been blessed with many opportunities to see the show in recent years, particularly with superlative productions from Chichester Festival Theatre and Tooting Arts Club (now making an amazing leap to Broadway), it would be easy to be blasé about this production but make no mistake, it is one well worth catching indeed.