Saturday, 30 June 2012
Sweeney Todd at The Adelphi
Musicals are not really my theatre of choice, but I make an exception with Sweeney Todd currently playing at The Adelphi Theatre. This production is pure perfection, from the brilliantly inventive set designed by Anthony Ward to the superlative performances by Imelda Staunton and Michael Ball. I thought Sweeney Todd the movie starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter was excellent but this stage version knocks that into a cocked hat.
I’ve always known that Imelda Staunton is a terrific actress but here she is a revelation as the woman who is totally and utterly obsessed with the demon barber. She will and does do anything to please him, making us laugh all the way to her pie shop in the process, such is her superb comic timing. Never mind that she is a real villain who thinks nothing of sacrificing a young boy she has befriended, her every entrance is a delight.
Michael Ball is totally unrecognisable as Sweeney and his fleshy, pallid face and lank dark forelock send a shiver down the most rigid of spines, especially when he switches from a man with a legitimate grievance into a deranged serial killer.
The inventive, if more than dark way he and his accomplice choose to dispose of their victims, is to turn them into the fillings for Mrs Lovett’s pies, thus providing a neat way to hide a steady build up of bodies, but also to boost the revenue from her pie shop. What started out as inedible paltry, pasties, turn into tasty morsels that her clients can’t get enough of. If only they knew the secret!
Jonathan Kent’s decision to stage this version of Sondheim’s musical in what looks like a dilapidated factory, is a master stroke, as it really heightens the shift of tone from the chilling prologue with its screams and factory whistles to the comic spectacle of Mrs Lovett making her pies. This shift occurs throughout the evening; we don’t relax, knowing that blood could flow at any time.
John Bowe’s self-flagellating judge and Peter Polycarpou’s sadistic henchman are excellent, as are Nicholas Skilbeck’s musical direction and Paul Groothuisi's sound design.
Sondheim’s superb lyrics, amongst them “shepherd’s pie peppered with actual shepherd on top”, along with this brilliant cast ensure a brilliant night at the theatre. Don’t miss it.