I love Sweeney Todd. It’s my two favourite things thrown together; gore and musicals. So I had some high expectations when I went to watch the Chichester Festival Theatre production at The Adelphi this week. And my god, they did not let me down.
If anyone’s ever seen any Shining Lights Youth Theatre productions (based in Newbury), it took a very similar tone to their work. It had an extremely dark feel from start to finish, even when we walked into the auditorium to see the towering, grey set, already dotted with actors scrubbing the floors, or reading newspapers. I’ve never been to a West End Musical and seen this technique used. It made it stand out from the rest, and drew the audience in before they’d even settled. And then they remained on stage for the entire show! They remained as shadows hanging over the banisters or peering through the pipes. It was almost like they were audience members themselves, involving us in being the intruders and gossips of this story.
Now I suppose the themes in this show aren’t for the faint-hearted, but I wasn’t the only one laughing as Sweeney slit throats. During the ‘Johanna’ quartet in Act 2, he had a succession of three killings, where he slit with a smile on his face, squirting the blood about a metre in the air before sliding the victim off his red barber’s chair into a hole in the floor. It was done so smoothly and calmly, it was clear to see the amount of work they’d put into it, and the sheer joy at the audience’s reaction reflected in their work.
I cannot review this production without mentioning the two main characters; Sweeney Todd and Mrs Lovett, played by Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton. Having seen Michael Ball as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray, I wasn’t sure his acting abilities would spread from lovely, comic woman to crazed and disturbed madman. But there was nothing to worry about. I think I now have a crush on Michael Ball. It’s a hard sing this show, but he didn’t falter once. Neither did Imelda Staunton, as a matter of fact. From Professor Umbridge to Mrs Lovett she can do anything. I’ve never heard her sing, but I was pleasantly surprised. She suited the character role perfectly, and was so natural on stage in every movement. I find it cringe-worthy watching actors who force their emotions, but she was so realistic it was a bit scary.
And who I didn’t expect see was Jason Manford giving a hilarious rendition of Pirelli. I didn’t even know he was in it! If you go for one thing, go for him, because he is awesome.
I can’t believe it’s got such a short run. If you haven’t been yet, go. It closes on the 22nd September, so get tickets! I thought they’d extend it for a few more months because of its huge success, but turns out The Bodyguard has been adapted into a musical. It was only a matter of time before Whitney took over…