Wednesday 17 September 2014

Sweeney Todd - Review

Twickenham Theatre, London


Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by Hugh Wheeler
Adaptation by Christopher Bond
Directed by Derek Anderson

David Bedella and Sarah Ingram

Twickenham is the newest of fringe theatres to open in the capital. Perched above a pub, little more than a stone’s throw from the train station it’s a pleasantly accessible suburban venue and with Derek Anderson’s entertaining production of Sondheim’s bloodiest work, Twickenham has laid down its marker for quality.

There’s a steampunk feel to the piece. Amidst dripping pipes and a smoke filled gloom creating the infernal grime of Mrs Lovett’s bakehouse, David Bedella and Sarah Ingram breathe life into the doomed couple. Bedella’s Todd is callow, drawn and hungry for vengeance. Controlled understatement defines his crafted performance though vocally, on press night at least, it felt that he could be giving more. In two of Sweeney’s biggest numbers, My Friends and Epiphany, Bedella is magnificent, though he and the cast are not helped by clumsy sound design throwing voices in and out of amplification depending upon proximity to static mikes.

The treat of the show however is Ingram whose buxomly decolletaged Mrs Lovett is at once a fusion of Carry On’s Hattie Jaques, Oliver’s Nancy and Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth. Ingram nuances the menace of her character perfectly, The Worst Pies In London being a comic treat whilst By The Sea blends her romantic desperation with Sondheim’s remarkable understanding of English banter. Ingram could slow down just a tad in A Little Priest, some of the gags are garbled.

Elsewhere there is excellence from Genevieve Kingsford making her debut in the desperately challenging soprano role of Johanna. She sings exquisitely in Kiss Me and Green Finch And Linnet Bird. Mikaela Newton’s Tobias is touchningly convincing whilst Mark McKerracher is appropriately old enough to make his misogynistic lust for his young ward as disgusting as it should be, though his moment of self-flagellation is distractingly feeble.

The staging is simple with Rachel Stone’s design generally working well. Sweeney’s chair is an ingeniously low-budget affair but it serves its purpose, shuttling the slaughtered carcasses off the stage. The fake blood flows in torrents, turning most of the show’s murders into moments of comedy-horror, though too often the blood squirting nozzle is visible on the “victim”. If the mechanics behind an effect are visible, it is no longer “special” and an audience’s suspended disbelief can lurch dangerously south.

Benjamin Holder’s four piece band tackle Sondheim with aplomb. The two keyboards in particular maintain an almost orchestral backing to the show and are a constant reminder of the outstanding performance values to be found in London’s Off West End. I won’t be the only critic to say this, but make the trip to Twickenham’s Sweeney Todd. It’s a bloody good musical.

Runs until 4th October 2014

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