SWEENEY TODD – Loft Theatre, Leamington, until July 23.
Review by Peter McGarry
HAND on heart, you can readily call this a full-blooded production.
The throat-slitting antics of the Demon Barber and the gruesome pie-filling by his woman associate are legend and the challenge is to create their grim Victorian environment with panache.
In a mood reflecting Sweeney’s obsessive revenge mission, back-street London comes alive. Dark buildings, hidden hideyholes and shadowy stairways pinpoint a world of poverty and social injustice which is cleverly accentuated in Kimberlee Green’s set designs.
The show opens with a surge of theatrical power, loses some of its momentum in the first half and then storms back under forceful direction by Tim Willis for a fine-tuned second act.
Triumph of the evening is a terrific performance by Rayner Wilson as mistress of manipulation Mrs Lovett, savouring the outrageous contrast between comfortable motherly shopkeeper and ghoulish baker of human pies. Her rich comedic talents assert themselves in a variety of the show’s best numbers, notably emitting some startling seagull squawks as she eulogises thoughts of living by the sea.
Chris Gilbey-Smith’s Sweeney is an effectively brooding figure, lusting to strike back at the enemies who destroyed his life. The mantle slips a little at times but the formidable overall portrayal quickly puts this right. His duets with Mrs Lovett capture the brilliance of Stephen Sondheim’s sharp, quirky and often hilarious lyrics.
With the atmosphere so well maintained by Matt Flint’s musical direction, other highlights spring to life. The ever-versatile Nikki Cross swirls sinuously around the stage and delivers some fine vocals as the ominous Beggar Woman. Benjamin Wellicome skilfully defines the trusting innocence of the misused Tobias. And in a role reversal which could be said to reflect our current new state of woman power, Lucy Maxwell is a tough and rough-edged Beadle.
This is a splendid close to what has generally been an excellent Loft season.