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Review of Sweeney Todd at the Stockwell Playhouse

Sweeney Todd: Production photo by Stephen Russell.
Sweeney Todd: Production photo by Stephen Russell.

Sometimes we all want a piece of fiction to be true. Let’s be honest for years, politicians have been getting the two mixed up for years. However, there are stories, which seem to have entered folklore to the point where it is difficult to know if they are real or just the product of an author’s imagination. Once such tale is Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, which started life as a Penny Dreadful back in 1846 and has been re-written, turned into a play, a musical and a film. Various productions of the musical have been put on both here and over the pond, and I recently caught the latest, from Geoids Musical Theatre at the Stockwell Playhouse.

It’s 1846 and two men are returning to London after an absence of some time. One is a sailor by the name of Anthony Hope (Richard Upton) and the other is a man he rescued from the sea. A mysterious and very intense man by the name of Sweeney Todd (Thomas Isherwood) who has been out of London for many years. As the two men part, Todd tells Hope a little of his past and that he is hoping to take up his old profession as a barber in Fleet Street. Making his way there, Todd stops in the pie shop of Mrs Lovett (Maria Waters) who offers him the apartment over her shop in which to work. This appeals to Todd for many reasons, including his plan to revenge himself on the corrupt Judge Turpin (Paul Caira) along and his servant, Beadle Bamford (Alan Scobbie) for events that had taken place years before. At the same time, Hope has had his own run-in with the Judge, as he has met and fallen for the Judge’s ward Johanna (Freya Morgan) little knowing that the Judge has his own plans for her. Before Todd can establish himself as the finest barber in London, he needs to generate some positive publicity, and he does this by taking on another barber, the elaborate Adolfo Pirelli (Joe Brown) and his simple-minded assistant, Tobias Ragg (Barry O’Reilly). The outcome of this battle leads to serious repercussions for all and gives both Todd and Mrs Lovett the basis for two much-improved businesses.

With music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler. Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, has quite a Pedigree and it must be quite a daunting task for any company to take it on. Luckily, the team at Geoids had no such qualms and have brought together a very talented team to produce an extremely good version of the show. The stage is dominated by John Winters impressive double level set behind which the orchestra under Musical Director Erika Gundesen sit. Whilst this is very effective, it does mean that Director Dom O’Hanlon has a slightly limited space on the lower level in which to move the very talented cast around.

Before moving on to the cast, a quick word about the story. There are lots of different elements to the book which means the show is roughly three hours long, with an interval. Personally – and this is probably the worst thing I could say about a Sondheim musical – I would like to see a little pruning. The love story between Anthony Hope and Johanna does seem to go on a bit and, to my mind, causes the pace to drop at times. However, that’s just my opinion and I am sure there are others that feel I should be turned into a pie for saying such things.

Thomas Isherwood is an excellent choice for Sweeney Todd. He has an excellent singing voice and a real intensity in his performance that is perfect for the troubled ‘hero’. The show is amazingly dark and could be even darker if it wasn’t for the character of Mrs Lovett and Maria Waters is absolutely brilliant in the role. A perfect foil for the ever brooding Todd, Mrs Lovett as played by Waters is a wonderful character that, whilst highly dodgy, scheming and totally untrustworthy, is everyone’s friend and, in some ways has a heart of gold, especially in her dealing with Barry O’Reilly’s wonderfully ‘simple’ and naive Tobias. I’ve never really understood why Mrs Lovettt is in love with Todd, but with Isherwood and Waters, it starts to make a bit more sense. The two actors work extremely well together and make a pair of totally despicable characters almost nice – particularly in the wonderful ‘A Little Priest’.

Overall, I found this production of Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, to be really good. It’s a long show but Geoids have brought together a great cast, orchestra and design to produce a really entertaining show that could easily grace a West End stage.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

Sweeney Todd, an unjustly exiled barber, returns to nineteenth-century London, seeking vengeance against the lecherous judge who framed him and ravaged his young wife. On the road to revenge, Todd finds an accomplice in Mrs. Lovett, the owner of a failing pie shop, above which he opens his new barbershop. Todd’s thirst for blood means than there is soon no shortage of raw ingredients for Lovett’s meat pies and the people of London are lining up to try them…

Geoids’ production aims to explore the story’s Fleet Street roots and the role of sensationalism in the news and print industry in creating a character of Victorian melodrama.

Geoids’ production will feature Thomas Isherwood, who recently appeared in the King’s Head Theatre/Trafalgar Studios Olivier Award-nominated production of La bohème, as Sweeney Todd and Maria Waters, who recently appeared in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play for the Nation at the Barbican Centre, as Mrs Lovett. It will also include new costume designs by Lemington Ridley (2016 BroadwayWorld UK / West End Awards Nomination for Best Costume Design, Ragtime), a new production design by John Winters and is directed by Dom O’Hanlon with musical direction by Erika Gundesen.

Sweeney Todd – Thomas Isherwood
Mrs Lovett – Maria Waters
Johanna – Freya Morgan
Anthony Hope – Richard Upton
Judge Turpin – Paul Caira
Beadle Bamford – Alan Scobbie
Pirelli – Joe Brown
Tobias Ragg – Barry O’Reilly
Beggar Woman – Emma Morgan

Ensemble: Alex Covell, Will Howells, Kathryn Hyde, Harriet Jackson, Hannah Jones, Fiona Murray, Sandra Murray, Franciscus Prins, Conor Rooney and Chris Waiting.

Production Team
Director – Dom O’Hanlon
Musical Director – Erika Gundesen
Producers – Blake Klein & John Winters
Production Assistants – Daniel Gosselin, Katie McCallum & Jack Steadman
Sound Design – Adrian Jeakins
Lighting Design – Graham Webb & Christopher Taylor
Costume Concept – Lemington Ridley
Publicity – Daniel Penfold & Charlotte Green

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
A Musical Thriller

Music and lyrics by STEPHEN SONDHEIM. Book by HUGH WHEELER
From an adaptation by CHRISTOPHER BOND, Originally directed by HAROLD PRINCE
Orchestrations by JONATHAN TUNICK. Originally produced on Broadway by Richard Barr, Charles Woodward, Robert Fryer, Mary Lea Johnson, Martin Richards in association with Dean and Judy Manos

Listings Information:
Sweeney Todd
An amateur production presented by arrangement with Music Theatre International (Europe).
Stockwell Playhouse, 208 Wandsworth Road, London, SW8 2JU
Wed 2nd May – Sun 6th May 2018


1 thought on “Review of Sweeney Todd at the Stockwell Playhouse”

  1. Barbara Duncan

    I saw this yesterday and was blown away. One of the best shows I have ever seen and I was just sorry it was in such a relatively unknown venue. The live orchestra is a wonderful addition to the experience and the two main protagonists were sensational. The ensemble were also very special, and gave the story energy. Truly memorable.

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