Current Magazine

Sweeney Todd: Sondheim’s Musical is a Demonic Delight

Posted on the 21 March 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost
Sweeney Todd: Sondheim’s musical is a demonic delight

Poster for Sweeney Todd at the Adelphi.

Stephen Sondheim’s 1979 musical Sweeney Todd, directed by Jonathan Kent, has transferred from Chichester to the Adelphi Theatre in London. It stars Imelda Staunton as Mrs Lovett, and Michael Ball as Sweeney Todd. Lucy May Barker plays Sweeney’s daughter, John Bowe the judge. Mrs Lovett’s pie shop takes off once she hits on the idea of serving up Todd’s victims as pies; Todd is an escaped convict, home to kill the judge who imprisoned him wrongly – oh, and raped his wife and adopted his daughter. Critics are largely drooling over the production.

Genuine social resonance. Michael Billington in The Guardian was ecstatic. Sweeney Todd, he gushed, is a “true work of art.” He’d seen it in many interpretations, but this one left him “grasping for superlatives.” The setting is a “dilapidated factory”, which shifts the traditional perspective. The story is told by a “20th-century chorus of the working poor”, reminding us that “inequality and injustice remain a permanent scar on city life.” Kent also manages to “heighten the violent shifs of tone’ in the music and lyrics. The production is constantly unsettling. The performances are “bold and striking.” Ball “charts every stage of Sweeney’s descent.” Staunton plays with “equal command”, giving both “comic counterpoint” and showing a “great gift for discovering the extraordinary in the seemingly ordinary.” This is “is a superb achievement which proves that Sondheim’s musical thriller has genuine social resonance.”

It’s great! With reservations. Charles Spencer in The Telegraph said that Sweeney Todd was Sondheim’s “best show”, and “one of the greatest musicals of all time.” Unlike Billington, he thought updating the show to the 1930s was a silly idea. The production also “doesn’t always achieve the hurtling momentum” required by the show. But those who’re seeing it for the first time will be “blown away.” Michael Ball’s “fleshly, pallid face” makes an “instant shiver”, whilst it’s “impossible to praise” Imelda Staunton “too highly.” Some of the other parts could have done with “more oomph.” But the band is “superb.”

An absolute triumph. Dominic Maxwell in The Times said that the audience “rose to its feet in delight” after the show. The mood is “dark and entrancing.” Kent’s production “handles the Grand Guignol with panache.” He thought the support (unlike Spencer) was great, too. But more important is how “perfectly Kent controls the tone as we flip between the romantic and the discordant, the horrific and the comical, sometimes within a line. It’s an evening of glorious shades of grey; an absolute bleedin’ triumph.”

Razor sharp. Henry Hitchings in The Evening Standard agreed. Ball is a “revelation.” The “black comedy is matched by notes of tragedy” in a “a fiery blend of melodrama, demonic brutality and inventive bawdiness.” It’s not “flawless”, though – he agreed with Spencer about the updating. But all in all it’s “an unsettling musical thriller made razor-sharp by its two superb leads.”

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog