Sweeney Todd

Tue 1st – Sat 5th November 2011


Fiona Kao

at 00:26 on 2nd Nov 2011



When Sweeney Todd (played by Michael Craddock) first appears on stage, I ask the question: this frail young man as the demon barber of Fleet Street? Michael Craddock started out a bit unsure of his character. This plus the un-flirtatious Mrs. Lovett (played by Lorna Reader) who seemed positively afraid of touching her object of infatuation, gave the play an ominous beginning. It wasn’t until halfway through the first half when Judge Turpin (played by Laurence Williams) sang his quasi-incestuous desire for his ward Johanna (played by Anna Cavaliero) with brows furrowed and hands clutching his crotch that the show finally lifted. And the moment Pirelli (played by James Cormack) steps on stage, his self-assured beam and ostentatious gestures sucked in the audience’s attention. It was also around this time that Sweeney Todd eased into his character and the demon began to twiddle his fingers.

The actors had superb voices and their vocal expressions more than made up for their lack of acting skills, especially in the first quarter of the show. The interaction between Mrs. Lovett and Sweeney Todd was rigid and artificial yet their sung repartee was seamless with most of the punch lines well delivered. But there were several major setbacks: the actors kept on knocking into stage props and each other; the throat-cutting scenes were clumsy and bordered on hilarity; the raised platform was too small for the amount of action taking place on it, and twice, actors were in danger of falling with the barber chair off the platform. The lighting was simply appalling—it was as if the lighting director could not find where the actors were.

Yet despite these setbacks, the musical was still highly entertaining. Judge Turpin was brimming with emotions—his final groan in his death scene could only be delivered by an actor extremely confident in his stage presence; the Beadle (played by Hiroshi Amako) was just outright the most (unintentionally) comic actor—his fluffy thrusts of the fists and his determination to play the piano despite the top clamming down on his hands must be applauded, though the audience mostly just laughed. The above are serious scenes which turned out comic. But Sweeney Todd delivered superbly the song “By the Sea,” which was actually intended to be comic.

By the end of the show, I was persuaded by Sweeney Todd’s diabolic eyes and smirk that the frail young man was indeed capable of murder, and I was enchanted by his character. Overall, though the choreography was messy, the lighting dreadful and too many serious scenes were turned comic, the actors’ beautiful voices and sincerity in delivering their best were so endearing you wanted to forgive them. The show is highly entertaining, though for all the wrong reasons.


Sapphire Elisha

at 09:58 on 2nd Nov 2011



With a score as riveting as Stephen Sondheim’s and a story so perfectly chilling yet comedic, Sweeney Todd is already set to be a success, even before the haunting organ bellows those famous opening chords and the double bass murmurs its inauspicious melody. With an all student cast and theatrical team, Sweeney Todd went as well as could be expected for an opening night, besides one technical hiccup, namely the continually alternating volume of the actors' microphones. However, any stage nerves went undisguised and the whole performance was gripping and enjoyable from start to finish.

One of the most notable aspects of the performance is the strength of the chorus, which we are introduced to in the first few minutes. Perfect harmonies and precise rhythmic unison produced an excellent blanket of sound that really gets you in the mood for one of the darkest and most creative pieces of musical theatre. Yet, with so many visually and vocally strong males, it is curious that the musical’s eponymous villain should be played by an emotionally weak actor. Although an accomplished singer with many leading roles in Cambridge University Opera Society productions, Mike Craddock (Sweeney Todd) delivered a distinctly unbalanced combination of voice and drama. For example, in many emotionally intense and significant scenes such as the killing of Judge Turpin, Cardiac struggles a little in mustering enough anger to deliver the lines convincingly. That being said, Craddock did deliver some credit worthy songs such as the ironically sweet duet with Turpin; “Pretty Women”.

For me, the characters who stole the show were Tobias (Michael Hamway) and “The king of the barbers” Adolfo Pirelli (James Crock). Both exuded theatrical energy, supported by great Cockney and Italian/Irish accents, respectively: the perfect injection of light humour into this chiefly dark musical. As for costumes, again, Hamway and Crock wore the most interesting and most relevant to their characters, as opposed to Mrs Lovett (Lorna Reader) whose ensemble of bright pink shorts, a vintage wooly jumper and a red bandana was somewhat questionable and slightly unrealistic. Although Reader took a good half hour to be at ease with her own presence on the stage, she soon grew confident and proved to be one of the most capable in combining both voice and drama and remained exciting right till the end.

Cambridge University BATS really delivered a great performance of a challenging musical, especially when Tim Burton’s Academy Award winner is not too far from anyone’s mind. The set was ideal, with a brilliantly creative use of scaffolding to portray different venues and some very successful directing such as having the pure and beautiful Johanna on a platform above everyone else. Anna Cavallero (Johanna) gave an excellent performance of especially demanding songs with the perfect balance of emotions.

All in all, Sweeney Todd is an excellent piece of musical theatre, well worth watching at least once, if not twice and will leave you feeling exhilarated and entertained.


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