Monday, March 26, 2012

Review: Sweeney Todd 2012 West End revival

Home again: Sooty London streets humming to the tune of Sondheim

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Thursday 21st March 2012
Adelphi Theatre, London

Sweeney Todd
has created a lot of buzz in London this season. The Sondheim favourite isn’t a stranger to West End audiences; it gets revised every four or so years. What has tongues wagging is the cast – lady of laughs Imelda Staunton as Mrs Lovitt and aging romantic heartthrob Michael Ball as a middle-aged Anthony…eh, Sweeney Todd?

Staunton seamlessly moves between film and theatre, and Mrs Lovitt is no stretch for her talent. Her comedic timing is impeccable and she skillfully pushes the audience from hysterics in “By the Sea” to authentic fear when Lovitt's evil and twisted side is revealed. Ball is a less logical fit for the title role. After decades known to audiences for his trademark romantic hero roles, he makes an admirable transition to twisted barber. Heavy-set with an oily comb-over, he's almost unrecognisable if not for his unmistakable vibrato. Ball crafts a sufficiently creepy and sympathetic Sweeney and has great chemistry with Staunton, keeping tension taught in their strained but civil relationship.

James McConville gave a formidable performance as the agile and waif-like Tobias, winning the audience with his sweet rendition of “Not While I’m Around”. Luke Brady as Anthony lacked the effortless tenor vocal chops. The chorus were light on sopranos; a fuller top range would have given the “Ballad” reprises more depth to balance the baritones and basses, but some sympathy is deserved considering the ridiculously high soprano vocal score.

Sondheim’s music and lyrics are a witty and sensory delight; from the haunting operatic “Ballad of Sweeney Todd,” to the shocking irony of Sweeney's contemplation of the “history of the world” through the frame of Lovitt’s pie shop (“those below serving those up above” and man literally devouring man), to the final grating plot twist that sees Todd so obsessed with revenge that he doesn’t notice his own wife.

The set is minimalist but clever. The invisible partitioning of the stage to represent each character's abode creates consistency and allows the audience to preempt disaster. However, the lever/trapdoor that rises from beneath the stage quickly loses its symbolism due to lazy scene transitions.

The 2012 West End revival of Sweeney Todd makes for a highly enjoyable night of theatre, not at the least because it is a rare opportunity to watch Sondheim's work on the main stage.

Tickets at

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