A barber driven on bloody revenge, a woman’s dangerous obsession and the putrid figure of authority who is responsible. Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd is practically a perfect operatic tale, full of sweeping musical numbers and a grand sense of scale. Captivate Theatre have brought their adaption of the musical to the Fringe and do this incredible tale justice.
The story is a familiar one, and yet never stops being intriguing and horrifying in equal measure. Benjamin Barker (Darren Coutts) returns home after being transported to Australia on a false charge to seek bloody revenge on his nemesis Judge Turpin (Charlie Munro), who plans to marry the barber’s estranged daughter Johanna (Rosie Graham). Barker renames himself Sweeney Todd, in order to move on from his past and seek his own justice. Cue a murderous tale with suggestions of the cut-throat nature of capitalism, a theme arguably clearer here than it was in Tim Burton’s 2007 film adaption.
Coutts maintains a formidable presence as Todd throughout the show, and never loosens a firm grip over the audience, which is quite a feat in a venue as spacious as the Rose Theatre.. He is terrifying, possessed, and also humorously dismissive of Mrs Lovett’s desire for him. Hazel Beattie is perfect as the woman desperately fighting to be the centre of her beloved ‘Mr T’s’ life. She can make the audience smile, but also reveals herself to be as ruthlessly efficient as her dream husband.
Fans of the story may be disappointed, however, by the noticeable lack of stage time granted to Judge Turpin, who appears much less often than practically all the other major characters, despite his significance to the plot. This is especially saddening as Munro distinguishes himself as Turpin whenever he is on the stage. It somewhat undermines his character’s importance to the play when he appears as little as he does.
The most striking performances in the whole show actually comes from the ensemble, who are also responsible for the most chilling and spectacular musical numbers. They are framed as witnesses to Todd’s horrific murders, commenting in song between scene changes as to what they have seen, which is why having them responsible for moving the set (consisting solely of wooden boxes) as the locations change was a genius move. It makes them feel like they are there, spying on the horrible deeds occurring in Todd’s barbershop.
The live orchestra are on another level, delivering the sort of crashing score and rousing musical numbers worthy of the best in musical theatre. The singing of the cast is also very strong, although at the start of the play it can feel like Coutts is trying to outrace the music and all his lines seem rushed, but this dissipates as the play progresses. Again, it is the ensemble who impress the most with their powerful voices that somehow rise above the crashing cymbals and shrieking violins coming from below the stage. The whole show is awash with some incredible musical numbers, with the entire cast swapping from grandeur and volume to softer, more poetic moments with ease.
Sweeney Todd is once again proven worthy of stage time as Captivate Theatre provide one of the most memorable adaptations of Sondheim’s musical. Never relenting in its scale and based around what is at its core a fascinating story of revenge, it even has the somewhat humorous touch of being sponsored by TGI Friday’s. Maybe they should get a food inspector in…
Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Gilded Balloon @ Rose Theatre (Venue 76)
Until 27th August
Image: Anthony Cook