Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Thu 12th – Sat 14th February 2015

reviews

Emma Ansell

at 10:08 on 13th Feb 2015

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The first half of this production may have been good yet underwhelming (no doubt due at least in part to the difficulties of the material and necessary contextualisation) but 'Sweeney Todd's second half was truly excellent. The escalation of action and careful control of pace led to a dizzying climax – and all the emotional pay-off an audience could want from an ageing piece of melodrama. The cast, led by George Kirby-Smith as Todd, should be congratulated for bringing new life and energy to a well known and well loved story.

A strong and almost universally applicable feature of this production deserving of commendation was the physicality of the cast. Interactions took place not at an awkward stage distance, but up close and personal. There is something very raw and very real in the tactile nature of this show: from kisses to molestation to garotting (not necessarily in that order) 'Sweeney Todd' was an exploration of how personal interaction can cause both pleasure and suffering. Ailish O'Keeffe, as Mrs Lovett, should be particularly praised as paragon of energy and variety, interacting effortlessly with her fellow actors, and an absolute joy to watch from the first moment she stepped on stage. Her acting was busy, and in the best possible way. For a play rife with stage deaths, I was impressed that none were awful. They were particularly well handled by Kirby-Smith, and resulted in horror rather than laughter (as can too often be the case).

The cast as a whole grew more comfortable and more convincing within their roles in the second half of the production. Kirby-Smith's acting was understated and subtle, making his blood-lust all the more unnerving and provoking real uneasiness at times.It is unfortunate that the very first scene does not do justice to the production in its entirety - awkwardly staged and with sporadic bursts of uncomfortable shouting is a less than ideal introduction to what was an thoroughly enjoyable show.

The production as a whole was cohesive: a testament to a thoroughly conceived artistic vision. The transitions between scenes were so flawlessly and quickly carried out that I felt myself relaxing into Sweeney Todd, becoming absorbed in the action. Stand out moments in the directorship include the rape of Lucy, played by Saffron McNair, which was effectively unsettling, and the scenes within the asylum. The chorus should be commended for individually and independently being a spectacle in themselves, and for commitment to their multiple roles.

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