Dress Rehearsal Review: Laura
“Attend the tale of Sweeney Tood…”
Taking on a Stephen Sondheim show isn’t easy - particularly one as well known and loved as Sweeney Todd - but this production takes the challenge in its stride. Directed by Rachel Munro, with musical direction by Sebastian Roberts and George Cherry, Sweeney Todd at The StAge is an ambitious take on a classic that will leave the audience on the edge of their seats.
From the opening moments of the show it is clear that the audience is in for something special. A show like this is only ever as strong as its chorus and here they really shine, the opening number has you enthralled before we even see Sweeney (Matthew Patton) step on to stage.
Patton’s Sweeney Todd is a force of nature and from the moment we catch a glimpse of him we know he is out for revenge. He has the unenviable job of fronting this production but he makes it look easy. Be prepared to feel the terror of Sweeney Todd personally in his ‘Epiphany’.
Judith Sommerville holds her own as Sweeney’s murderous counterpart, adding levity and taking on some of Sondheim’s most famous and most tricky lyrics with ease (watch out for her flirtaciously fantastic ‘Worst Pies in London’). And her comedy chops are more than matched by her vocals. As a pair Patton and Sommerville take the stage by storm, and will keep the audience hanging on every word. Their ‘Little Priest’ is fantastic and was very satisfying to my personal love of puns.
The show’s less twisted romantic coupling is found in Anthony and Johanna, played by Jobim Ffench and Rebecca Black. Ffrench’s ‘Johanna’ is truly a highlight and Black plays a character worthy of the beauty of the song that bears her name. The pair are enchanting and Black in particular is a breath of fresh air in the darkness of the production, her wistful performance of ‘Green Finch and Linnet Bird’ will capture your heart.
While these four dominate the stage, the whole cast really brings their A-game. Kaleigh McCarthey’s Pirelli is deliciously scene chewing, and the gender bent casting of his young associate Tobias (played by Emily Speed) is used to hilarious advantage. Speed handles Toby’s sense of humour with as much adeptness as his more serious moments later in the show. The mysterious Beggarwoman is played with great passion and skill by Catriona Kadirkamanathan, her presence keeps us unsettled as we wonder how she figures into the story. John Burnett and Elliot Seth Faber are excellent as the show's villains Beadle and Judge Turpin - although in this case that’s really all a matter of degrees. Faber’s Turpin is an unsettling picture of internal struggle and vice, and he will really make you root for Sweeney and his revenge.
Beyond the cast though, every aspect of this production is absolutely on point. The band could easily be mistaken for one from the pit of a West End production, making Sondheim’s intricate orchestrations sound effortless. And the show’s technical elements, the lighting in particular (thanks to technician Alan Chodyniecki) puts the drama over the top.
Considering that I was lucky enough to be let in to see the dress run, I would say that any show that is this good this soon is bound to be a treat. I just hope for your sake that that treat is not a pie.
Opening Night Review: Molly
The Musical Theatre Society’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s classic musical, Sweeney Todd, sold out its three-show run in only a few days. And those packed audiences were not disappointed. The production, skillfully directed by Rachel Munro, was overflowing with talent, from the pitch-perfect band conducted by George Cherry to the stunning cast, which did not have one weak link. This was a thoroughly enjoyable and captivating piece of theatre.
The cast was led by Matthew Patton, who played the titular role with passion and nuance. Patton captured the warring sides of Sweeney, somehow making the murderous barber both terrifying and sympathetic, and singing Sondheim’s notoriously difficult songs with ease. He was well balanced by Judith Somerville, who played Mrs. Lovett. Somerville’s Mrs. Lovett was endearing and funny, drawing the audience’s attention in every scene. I would be remiss if I did not also give special mention to Jobim Ffrench and Rebecca Black who played Anthony and Johanna respectively. In addition to their beautiful voices, Ffrench and Black’s played off each other so well to create moments of true joy in such an ominous show. If I went on to list every outstanding cast member I would just be reciting the programme. They were all phenomenal performers who approached the show with high energy and skill.
The show was in the StAge, a notoriously difficult venue to use well due to the expanse of floor between the audience and the stage itself. Often, productions perform on both the stage and the floor, but the Sweeneyband was set up on the stage. And while I loved being able to see the flawless band (seriously, I don’t think they missed a note), this meant that all the action was happening on the small area of the floor, which, when the ensemble came on, often felt crowded. This also meant that the set was quite sparse to make room for the actors. I would have liked to see them use the stage as acting space as well, to allow for more specific set and adventurous blocking. But the small space did add a sense of immediacy and tension in the audience, as the actors often walked up the aisles, immersing the audience in the show. I was engulfed in Sweeney’s London, on the edge of my seat the entire time.
Overall, this was a worthy production of the Sondheim classic, brought to life by a wildly talented cast, crew, and band. If only I could see it again!