21st June, 2012
The West End transfer of Chichester Theatre’s production of Sweeney Todd stands as one of the musical highlights of 2012. It not only is gory but is also genuinely scary in moments and adds touches of humour, all played out by a wonderful and highly vocally talented cast on a detailed 1930s’ London set.
For this performance, I got a front row day seat for the stalls for a mere £24.99.
Before the musical starts, ensemble members of the cast come onto the stage from all directions and start to bring to life the grimmer sides of city life in London. Not only was I not expecting this, but at the start when Adam Pearce came down from a spiral staircase, I did begin to wonder whether he was part of the show or had just wandered on from the street. Giving a scary look across the stage and then sitting down and occasionally chuckling to himself, director Jonathan Kent assured that Pearce was completely watchable, which was fitting as he did have the first line of the show’s overture.
One of the issues brought on by having a three-tiered set is that the production did have some sightline problems. When I booked, I was told that being at the front and back of the stalls cuts off parts of the view although I wasn’t particularly affected. However, if you were sat in the centre of the front row, you will most likely have missed Epiphany where Todd and Lovett were brought forward on a raised platform that protruded the proscenium arch. However, what you will miss in facial expressions, you will gain in Ball’s fountains of spit that were being produced during it.
Some might say that Imelda Staunton’s Mrs. Lovett acts as comic relief in Jonathan Kent’s dark production, but she does more than that. Yes, she is extremely funny but also provides warmth, which is especially seen in her scream of ‘I love you’ in her final song when she shows how all of the murders and immoral acts were done for love and revenge. Therefore, although this may be a tall tale of fictional extremities, it is rooted in highly human experiences that we are all able to relate. For this, Staunton steals the show and slightly shadows Michael Ball’s performance as Sweeney Todd. Although he has dramatically changed his appearance and voice, putting on a London accent, to distance the charming TV and musical personality reputation that he’s built for himself, he still didn’t evoke a completely sinister, vengeful character. Instead, his performance suggested hints of his character’s former softer side which worked well and showed the amount of work put into developing his character. However, something still felt missing: the tap he gave to Imelda Staunton’s bottom at the end of the curtain call, for instance, swiftly brought back the Michael Ball we have all come to know. Overall, this suggested that the audience were left with memories that we weren’t presented with a dark and scary figure, but that instead it was just Michael Ball acting all along!
A fine supporting cast including Peter Polycarpou and John Burt and an excellent ensemble cast brilliantly demonstrated Sondheim’s tricky melodies as well as portraying well-rounded, thought-through characterisations. A great evening in the theatre.
Sweeney Todd played until 22nd September 2012. A cast recording is now available on CD and for download.