Director Jonathan Kent’s revival of this well known musical has transferred to the West End from Chichester where it has won numerous plaudits. Regardless of whether you’re a fan of Imelda Staunton or not, it is definitely worth going to see this musical just for her superb performance. There are not enough superlatives to do adequate justice to Staunton’s performance. As Mrs Lovett who sells the ‘worst pies’, she energises this production in every scene she appears and brings much comic flair as well as a compelling poignancy to her role. In comparison, I wasn’t convinced by Michael Ball’s brooding Sweeney Todd. He looks menacing but the menace doesn’t go further than skin deep for me. Similarly his feelings towards his daughter and wife, whom he hasn’t seen for 18 years, lack the expected warmth and sincerity. His singing, however, is splendidly spine-tingling and he really comes into his own when he shares the stage with Staunton’s Mrs Lovett. Two of the most memorable scenes involving both actors are during the best known songs ‘A Little Priest’ and ‘By the Sea’. That said, it would have been even much better if the stage directions for the latter song allowed the audience to see Sweeney Todd’s reaction to Mrs Lovett’s tacit admission of her love for him.
Strong support from a few cast members helps to move this musical along. John Bowe’s self-flagellating Judge Turpin captures his battle between his desire and his guilt with conviction. Peter Polycarpou’s Beadle Bamford is suitably obsequious to Judge Turpin. James McConville’s young waif Tobias is especially notable for not allowing his character to be eclipsed by Staunton and Ball in the scenes he shares with them. Robert Burt’s Pirelli should remind the audience of the Go Compare ad, except he is more funny and less irritating. The large ensemble sings well although, at times, the sheer number of these singers on stage is a distraction.
On the whole, this is enjoyable theatre but it is uneven at places. I do think a more intimate venue will help this production much more than the Adelphi Theatre where it is difficult to capture all the nuances on stage. The opening scenes take a while to get going and, for me, the pivotal change of pace only comes when Imelda Staunton makes her first appearance. The stage design and lighting are atmospheric in conveying the potent combination of dark humour and gloom. Perplexingly, this version is set in the 1930s rather than in Victorian London. The programme (very poor value for money) offers no insight into this. I don’t know what philosophical point this production is trying to make by shifting it to the pre second world war years but I am not sure it has added anything to it. The plot itself cannot be anything other than Victorian and the way the asylum scene is portrayed in this production is a testament to that.
Until 22 September 2012.
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.
Directed by Jonathan Kent.
Performance time is approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes with an interval.