Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Review: Sweeney Todd - Simply Theatre

Having seen their exceptional production of Rent this time last year, I was really looking forward to seeing how Simply Theatre took on Sweeney Todd. Though Rent had set my expectations high, Sweeney Todd couldn’t be much more different musically so there was no chance of a repeat performance.

For any amateur dramatics group, taking on a Sondheim score is no easy feat, but the tricky vocal melodies and harmonies were impressively handled for the majority of this production. There were a few occasions in which the timing of the performers and the band was notably out of sync, however these moments were brief and were recovered well.

When tackling Sondheim there is always a danger of losing elements of characterisation due to the amount of time and level of concentration demanded by the score, but what made this production a success were the enthralling and convincing personalities portrayed by both the lead performers and the supporting company.

Though a little wooden at times, Darren Street’s Sweeney Todd earnt the audience’s loyalty through his authoritative composure, yet also carried enough of a sinister air to deem his violent actions believable. His resonant vocals were unfalteringly compelling and provided the perfect contrast to Sarah Jones’s Mrs Lovett, who flitted around him with a comparably comic energy. Jones really excelled in numbers such as A Little Priest, where her eccentric traits and adept handling of the score allowed you to forget you were watching a character in a musical number - something that you very rarely come across in amateur theatre.

Emma Hough and Jamie Wilson also gave strong vocal performances throughout as Joanna and Anthony, with Hough effortlessly rising through the top notes. There isn’t a lot of room in the script to inject too much personality into Anthony and Joanna, and they do often feel like stock characters, but Hough and Wilson did well to maintain fairly fleshed-out performances.

For a small production, the staging was highly effective, with multiple levels on stage including a raised platform at the back behind a screen, which frequently became semi-transparent in order to reveal scenes from the past, clouded by memory and grief. Sweeney Todd’s Barber Shop was complete with a menacing-looking chair that tipped his victims over the edge and down a slide-like mechanism down to Mrs Lovett’s bakehouse, cementing the dark humour that epitomises this musical.

Though the fluidity of the performance and ominous atmosphere hadn’t fully settled until the second act, Simply Theatre tackled this challenging musical with a commendable force and impressive proficiency, and the truly chilling final number embodied the vocal talent of the cast and the striking staging and direction that made this production such an enjoyable watch.

*I was gifted this ticket in exchange for a review, but all words and opinions are my own.

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