My goodness, what a début! Fresh-from-the-Mountview-box director Derek Anderson cooks up a veritable storm in the brand spanking new Twickenham Theatre with a production of Sweeney Todd which is as hot and sinister as Mrs Lovett’s pies.
The theatre only seats 60 in this instance, and since the audience is seated practically on the stage, not a nuance or a blood splatter of the gleefully gory production can be missed. The set, small though it is, is superb; the grim chair rolls inexorably back and forth with its hapless occupants, trapdoors open and close seamlessly and windows are used to great effect. Smoke billows, lights flicker, blood sprays everywhere, and the whole is imbued with an all pervading sense of seediness and desperation. All of which perfectly complements the black tragi-comedy of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s story, as we watch the wronged Mr Todd plunge ever deeper into madness and evil in his quest to avenge his wife and recover his lost daughter.
Thankfully, the cast is more than a match for the atmosphere. A plethora of talent, both new and established, contrive to raise the bar on this well-known tale, making it funnier, wilder and fresher than I have seen it in a long time. No mean feat, since they also play multiple “crowd” roles as well as their own. Olivier award winning David Bedella is a tormented, dramatic Sweeney; his face twisting, his voice booming and his eyes shining alternately with glee and despair. Josh Tevendale radiates naïve goodness as the ever hopeful Anthony and Genevieve Kingsford makes an impressive professional début as an endearing Johanna. Having Toby the urchin played by a woman, Mikaela Newton, was an enterprising idea, and one which completely paid off. The star turn, however, was undoubtedly that of Sarah Ingram as Mrs Lovett; her brilliantly comic presence, likeability and pitch perfect rendition of songs such as By The Sea and A Little Priest helped to make hers a truly scene-stealing performance.
The impressive vocals are ably supported by the live band, who somehow manage to remain unobtrusive despite the presence of two pianos, and the sound level is dramatic without being deafening; a common issue in small theatres. The story is action packed, yet the cramped stage never feels overcrowded. Anderson directs with a light touch, underpinning the natural feel of the performances and keeping any necessary staginess to a minimum.
Altogether, Sweeney Todd is an evening of rip-roaring, diabolical, messy, engrossing entertainment. The only question now is; how on earth is the Twickenham Theatre ever going to follow this?
Review by Genni Trickett
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim Book by Hugh Wheeler
From an adaptation by Christopher Bond
Originally Directed by Harold Prince
Original orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick
David Bedella, Shaun Chambers, Chris Coleman, Zoe Curlett, Sarah Ingram, Genevieve Kingsford, Mark Mckerracher, Mikaela Newton, Josh Tevendale
Derek Anderson (Director)
Benjamin Holder (Musical Director)
Lee Crowley (Staging)
Rachel Stone (Set Design)
Simon Gethin Thomas (Lighting Design)
Olivia Ward (Costume Design)
Joel Price (Sound Design)
Anne Vosser (Casting)
This spine chilling new production will turn Sondheim’s Victorian masterpiece into a claustrophobically close experience that will thrill and terrify.
Running time is 2hrs 40mins including a 15 minute interval
Produced by David Adkin Limited in association with Twickenham Theatre
Wednesday 17th September 2014