Derby Theatre – until 22 October 2016
Mercury Theatre Colchester – 29 October-12 November 2016
One of Sondheim’s best-loved musicals was brought deliciously to life at Derby Theatre, last night. It has been ably directed by Daniel Buckroyd and his take on it has cemented the story far more favourably in my affections. This has not previously been on my list of favourites.
This was an atmospheric piece indeed, with a magnificent on-stage orchestra and an innovative set on a revolve, which moved the action along smoothly. It was far from the gore fest that some interpretations take the angle of, and instead, focused on the journey and meatiness of the characters and on bringing out the best of the vocal abilities of the cast. I’m sure the latter was not a difficult feat as the cast as an ensemble are a triumph and Mrs Lovett, in this production is far from being the worst and is possibly the best one I’ve seen.
The story of Sweeney Todd (Hugh Maynard) follows the vengeance of a Barber from Fleet Street who has been wrongly imprisoned due to the lustful greed of Judge Turpin (David Durham) who has taken a shine to Todd’s (then known as Benjamin Barker) unsuspecting wife, Lucy. Todd, having served 15 years in prison, returns to London in the hope of finding his wife and child waiting for him. The news that Turpin has his child, Johanna (Christina Bennington), as his ward adds extra impudence to his quest to dispose of the Judge. His travelling companion, Anthony (Jack Wilcox) discovers Johanna and falls in love with her, he has no knowledge that she is Todd’s daughter. Add Mrs Lovett of the pie shop (Sophie-Louise Dann) to the mix, an old admirer of the vengeful Barber, who has a plot in mind to help her business and to dispense with the various victims who unwittingly take a seat in Todd’s Barber’s chair. They don’t call it a musical thriller for nowt!
Maynard makesrfor a menacing and increasingly psychotic Todd, he has the voice for the part and I felt that he came into his own when he sang ‘My Friends’. I enjoyed Maynard’s scenes with Julian Hoult, who played Bamford, Hoult was simpering and sneering as the Beadle and I thought he rivalled Timothy Spall’s portrayal in the movie version. Likewise, Simon Shorten gave a terrific performance as Pirelli, he moved seamlessly between accents during his interaction with Todd and I am keen to see more of Shorten’s work in the future. Kara Lane was inspired as the ever-present beggar woman, she brought comic melancholy to the role and subtle suggestion that there was more to her part in the story. Christina Bennington is stunning as Johanna, a beautiful voice and she played her with sweet gentility, the chemistry with Jack Wilcox as Anthony was a joy to behold. Wilcox sang ‘Johanna’ so hauntingly, you could have heard a pin drop in the auditorium and his diction was perfect. Ryan Heenan is a wondrous Tobias, I thought that the intricacies of the character’s blossoming mother/son relationship with Mrs Lovett was one of the highlights of the show. With Imelda Staunton’s Mrs Lovett still fresh in my mind, we come to Sophie-Louise Dann’s interpretation, and it’s my favourite to date. The comedy that she brought out in the role was exceptional, from the timing to the little asides that didn’t go unnoticed. Dann ceaselessly brought more and more to the performance and just when I thought she’d given it everything, she proved me wrong and sky-rocketed high above the rafters. ‘By The Sea’ was glorious, Dann’s vocal ability captured the nuances of the number, spectacularly.
With Halloween fast approaching, the timing for this production couldn’t be better, it’s a grisly tale with a tragic heart and the show has been given a new lease of life through this incarnation. A truly extraordinary experience at the theatre.