‘Sweeney Todd’ at the Adelphi Theatre

The show has been on my ‘to see’ list ever since I read that the successful Chichester production was transferring to the West End.  The posters added to the intrigue, showing, as they do, a nearly unrecognisable Michael Ball.

As soon as it started, I knew we were in for a good show, simply from the way the chorus sang the opening, enunciating each of Sondheim’s words so clearly, so that we could hear and enjoy all the cleverness and economy of the lyrics, all beginning from that ….the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

Making the most of its dark themes of murder, lust, revenge and pies, the whole production is dark; a brooding dimly lit set, deep rich tone from the band, and such black humour.  This is one of Sondheim’s most complex scores and the wittiest librettos, and part of the thrill of the show is the mixture of macabre and bloody violence and sly humour.  One minute I was smiling at the cleverness of the rhyming dual in A Little Priest, and then screwing up my eyes ready to look away in anticipation of the next bloody murder.

The best thing about the show is the performances.  Michael Ball, departing from his usual light slightly camp stage persona, gives a strange and powerful portrayal of the decline of a man with a legitimate grievance to one consumed with desire for revenge, and unable to stop killing.  It is a nuanced portrayal and one which was vocally gorgeous; his voice seems to be getting better and deeper, defying the passage of time.

Imelda Staunton extracts every ounce of humour from the role of Mrs Lovett, from the opening when she is baking disgusting pies that not even a very hungry Sweeney Todd could eat, through to her lustful, encouragement of his killings.  The scene in which she goes from horror at discovering the body of Sweeney’s first victim in the trunk to realising that the corpse represented the perfect source for meat for new and improved pies, was a tour de force.

I didn’t really care for the actress who played Johanna, Sweeney Todd’s daughter, as her voice wasn’t strong or interesting enough,but that would be my only criticism of the show.

It’s closing soon, so there’s not much time to make sure you don’t miss it.

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  1. it’s my favourite Sondheim – and Sondheim’s my favourite – would love to have seen it Rowena!

    • I’m a big Sondheim fan too, and this was the first time I’ve seen a full production of Sweeney – and, if the people who have seen earlier productions too are to be believed, this was an exceptionally good one.


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