Dylan White reviews Jonathan Kent’s critically acclaimed production of the famous bloody barbershop tale.
Stephen Sondheim’s bone chilling masterpiece Sweeney Todd has long been regarded as one of the greatest plays of all time, with the story featuring on the silver screen in the 2007 adaptation starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. This production takes place in the historical Adelphi Theatre in London bustling West End. Jonathan Kent’s production allows musical lovers and theatre goers alike to plunge deeply into the injustices and horrors that will forever be a part of London city life and history.
The creation of a demonic and hellish like 19th Century Victorian setting instantly draws the audience back to the poverty ridden environment that Londoners had to contend with. Both Kent and his stage designer, Anthony Ward, echo the city’s dark past through their design of a dilapidated, impoverished factory, which is surrounded by the whistles, screams and cries of Todd’s helpless victims.
Michael Ball’s star persona is pivotal to the depiction of Sweeney Todd, owner of the renowned Fleet Street barbershop turned psychopathic serial killer, who remains resolute in avenging the injustices his family has endured at the hands of society’s prejudices. Ball’s combination of delightful viciousness along with his scary, mask like face and ominous stage presence sends shivers racing down the audiences’ spines. Those who are familiar with the tale wait in anticipation at what is to take place at the hands of this deranged hairdresser.
Imelda Staunton’s performance as Mrs. Lovett is equally impressive as Ball’s. Known for her role in the Harry Potter films, her performance here comprises of memorable one-liners, timely flamboyant entrances and an all round good humoured acting style which brings a more comical air to this legendary fable. Her almost orgasmic moans as she delves into the cannibalistic delight of using her customers for profitable gains are provocative, with her erotic obsession with Todd proving instrumental to her actions. Her menacing, pie –making antics and her willingness to attend to the demonic barber’s every need, present her as the real villain at the scene of the crime. A truly ordinary, pie shop owner besotted with the dream of love and enterprise fuses together what is a most extraordinary performance by Staunton.
Sondheim’s musical score allows for a sense of shock and horror as this splendidly bloody and horrific play unfolds. This soundtrack, combined with Ball’s outstanding vocals and Staunton’s acting skills, results in a sensational production that will captivate you from the start. The suspense and overall feeling of disbelief are central to our fascination with the incessant brutality of Kent’s spectacle.
Sweeney Todd is unquestionably a play about a disturbing attitude to life, which goes hand in hand with strong feelings for impulse that lie deep within the human condition. Who cares whether the play remains true to the historical facts? The standing ovation at the end emphatically tells you that the tale is a bloody good one, and is genuinely a must see for all theatre lovers.