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Sweeney Todd: does it make the cut?

“The demon barber of Fleet…Street”

Blood, sweat, tears and more blood; the preview of Sweeney Todd at CFT (Chichester Festival Theatre) was a cut above the rest (24th September 2011). The cast gave a bloody account of the gloomy tale of a man fuelled by loss and grief and driven to madness. The final scene reflected the successful retelling with the audience repaying the actors hard work with a standing ovation.

The two lead characters played by Michael Ball (Sweeney Todd) and Imelda Staunton (Mrs Lovett); beautifully recreated the dark tale. Ball gave phenomenal singing performances (solo and duets) and the powerful projection of his voice created an eerie atmosphere in the city of London. At times Ball’s body language lacked the emotion of Mr Todd seen in previous performances (such as the renowned Mr Johnny Depp). At times Ball looked like a young Ricky Gervais in The Office which made his role less effective and daunting however his performance of Mr Todd was energetic at all times.

The sharpest performance of the night was from Imelda Staunton. Staunton’s quick pace delivery of modern jokes and witty lines left the audience in upheavals of raucous laughter. Staunton embraced the character of Mrs Lovett without doubt and the best scene of the night was between her and Mr Todd. What type of pie would you like? This scene showcased the flawless acting by Staunton; humorous descriptions of the ‘types of people in the pies’ with modern references and puns: bankers, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the army and many more relatable professions.

The set was enticing, exciting and elaborate. The main scenes made brilliant use of a winding staircase and balconies overlooking the main stage. To change from various locations a two levelled staircase set would transport the audience: from the barber shop to the asylum to the Judge’s house and so on. The costumes were low cost reflecting the era of the story but none the less, very captivating.

The production managed to stir various emotions throughout the evening: Mr Todd’s anxious nature to seek revenge, Todd’s daughter Johanna’s despair, Mrs Lovett’s obsession with Mr Todd, Judge Turpin’s sick perversion with his daughter and the seeded events that occurred in London and went unnoticed.

Judge Turpin played by John Bowe created a startling scene that really put the audience under the knife: a ritualistic whipping scene with Turpin using his belt as an instrument of pain on his body whilst dressed only in trousers. Turpin numerously beat himself to drive the incestual thoughts for his daughter away. The scene was a little cringe worthy yet effective as it portrayed the dark sick nature of judge Turpin and the cracking of the leather belt on his skin brought the reality to the audience. Crack.

The daughter Johanna was played well by Lucy Barker as she triumphantly showed the audience her angelic nature yet also her fight for survival. Although one of the first scenes showed an explicit silhouette denoting rape that seemed unnecessary; the rest of the production followed her tale of escaping the terror of her father and without knowledge being in the same location as her mother.

The true horror the audience loved was the ‘close shaves’ of many men under the knife of Mr Todd; all but one that resulted every time in death. Thrills, shrieks and cries were provoked by the humorous deaths in the barber shop. Mr Todd without mercy slit the throats of customers and simply disposed of their bodies to the bake house below. The scene beautifully showed the rhythmic ease of killing the men and then using their bodies as filling for the meat pies. The squirting of blood with each kill was a fantastic effect; simple, slaughtered yet effective.

The show was slick with excellent choreography for all of the songs and the crossover of two scenes at one time was timed well. The cast remained full of energy throughout the whole performance and kept the atmosphere of London very much alive and buzzing: a stark contrast to customers at Mr Todd’s barbers. The audience remained enthralled in the two and half hour tale of violence, madness, grief, deceit and loss. Sweeney Todd is being performed at CFT until Saturday 5th November 2011 and is a must see! You’d be bloody mad not to.

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