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Sweeney Todd

by on 16 October 2019

A Cutting Edge Production

Sweeney Todd

by Stephen Sondheim

BROS Theatre Company, Hampton Hill Theatre, until 19th October

Review by Helen Astrid

Sweeney Todd is a gruesome and gripping musical with music and lyrics by American composer Stephen Sondheim and has just opened at the Hampton Hill Theatre by the BROS Theatre Company this week.

Based on the 1973 play, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street by Christopher Bond, which was originally set in Victorian London, the plot revolves around a vengeful barber who is on the hunt for the evil Judge Turpin. Turpin had transported him to Australia for a crime he didn’t commit, for the Judge had designs on Sweeney’s wife. Despite being written for the 1850s the show is indeed relevant to our own present-day problems with crime, for revenge and punishment are central to the plot. BROS’ slick and innovative production by Paul Turnbull is certainly a modern day approach.

Sondheim, now 89 years old, considers the work ‘a little horror show’ though in reality it’s a true reflection of his own life, which was much troubled in his early formative years. Luckily for us, he emerged into a great writer, learning much of his trade from Oscar Hammerstein. Sir Cameron Mackintosh describes Sondheim as “possibly the greatest lyricist ever”.

SweenyPromo1

The opening ensemble number The Ballad of Sweeney Todd immediately transports us to the East End of London, namely Fleet Street, EC4, where the demon barber resides making a heinous living. With thirty-three musical numbers plus dialogue taking just over two hours and twenty minutes, there is not a dull moment.

BROS Theatre Company certainly displayed a strong, committed and mature approach with a dynamic cast led by Sam Sugarman in the title role who enjoyed brandishing his glistening blade with purposeful viciousness.

SweenyPromo2Jonathan Warriss-Simmons as Anthony sings and acts with conviction as the love-struck hero and displays control and command particularly in his song Joanna, a theme used again and again by Sondheim. Georgina Skinner as Joanna is the heroine who also has some great tunes, at times soaring to top B flats displaying her pure dulcet tones.

The boisterous and effervescent Mrs Lovett was superbly performed by Aggie Holland; her By the Sea in Act 2, was both impressive and touching. A promising stage presence indeed.

Milly Pickworth gives a fine performance as Tobias Ragg and her (or his) Not While I’m Around, another Sondheim hit, is delivered with charm and clarity of tone. Further mention must go to Faye Brann who gives the role of the Beggar Woman (an unforgiving role, whom we later find out to be Lucy, the lost love of Todd) a splendid performance.

SweenyPromo3Not least, Nigel Cole is cunning as the self-righteous Judge Turpin whom we finally see gets his just deserts. As with all good shows, there’s a moral to be learnt and Sweeney Todd is no exception. Some scenes though may be unsuitable for children, so adults too beware!

The set design by Wesley Henderson-Roe is simple and uncluttered; the barber’s shop, street corners and mad house are cleverly created from different levels and the use of the auditorium serves the cast well. Black and red appropriately dominate the stage as well as the colours for the costumes and the red and white striped pole sign reminds us where to go and have a close shave, if we dare. It’s fascinating that this trade sign is a real tradition dating back to the Middle Ages in England.

A small hidden band including a piano, flute, clarinets, trumpet, horn, double bass and percussion are competently led by Nic Luker.

Bravo to the entire team for what promises to be a stupendous run this week. Grab a ticket if you can!

Helen Astrid
October 2019

Photography by PNDPhotography

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