Sweeney Todd

Apr 27 2018 | By More

★★★★★   A cut above

Brunton Theatre: Thurs 26 – Sat 28 April 2018
Review by Martin Gray

Captivate Theatre’s revival of last year’s Fringe production of Sweeney Todd has matured over the months, and is a must-see as it reaches the Brunton Theatre.

There’s a pie shop a short walk from the Brunton Theatre. What a wizard wheeze, had they sponsored the story of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, whose victims are turned into pastry delights. Then again, perhaps it’s not a tale with which they’d wish to be associated.

Hazel Beattie and Darren Coutts. Pic: Captivate

This production from Captivate Theatre, though, is tasty fare indeed. From the powerful opening Ballad of Sweeney Todd to its melancholic return for the epilogue, it is compelling theatre.

If you don’t know this version of the Penny Dreadful horror, book writer Hugh Wheeler has barber Benjamin Barker returning to England after escaping transportation in Australia.

Barker lost his wife and child to a lustful judge and hopes, after 15 years, to be reunited with them. But Mrs Lovett, who sells ‘The Worst Pies in London’ from his old premises, has tragic news. And Barker, now calling himself Sweeney Todd, begins to plot revenge…

While said revenge is bad news for the strays and strangers he slaughters to feed Mrs Lovett’s suddenly keen customers, it’s great news for audiences. For this near sung-through show is replete with gorgeous, clever songs which weave in and out of the two acts, and the cast members and musicians do them full justice.

The bogeyman Sweeney reeks of danger, but retains his humanity as Darren Coutts finds the humour and pathos in this wronged man. His singing is always strong, whether he’s belting out Epiphany or sharing the tender duet Pretty Women with the unknowing Judge Turpin. And then there are his songs with Mrs Lovett, the darkly witty A Little Priest and the childlike ditty By The Sea.

perfect partner

Ah yes, Mrs Lovett. You can have a sharp barber, but if you don’t have an equally meaty baker, you don’t have a show. And then, the pair have to have chemistry. Captivate’s Sweeney Todd is blessed with a brilliant Mrs Lovett in Hazel Beattie; she’s a lonely, lustful woman who’s the perfect partner for the man Barker becomes, but not the one he wants to be. Beattie is brilliant – she can sell a song with verve, while her confident acting is as suited to the comic as it is the serious.

Charlie Munro and Darren Coutts. Pic: Captivate

As for the other featured cast members, every one contributes to a gorgeous theatrical tapestry. Sally Cairns is fantastic as the beggar woman who wanders in and out of the action, a Cassandra with the clap, warning of a City on Fire.

Charlie Munro captures the sinister vanity of the spider-like Judge Turpin, while Megan Gardiner splendidly conveys the neurotic fragility of his ward, Johanna. As for her beau, the manic romantic Anthony, Sam Selbie is wonderfully puppyish.

Malachi Reid is terrific as rival barber Pirelli and various customers, showing a real flair for accents… and dying – I counted three convincing deaths but may have missed one or two. Beadle Bamford, the judge’s crony, is played with anachronistic glee by Colum Findlay – he seems to have wandered in from the Rocky Horror Show, but his skilful performance makes it work.

Tobias, the orphan who becomes Mrs Lovett’s assistant, gets a pitch-perfect portrayal from Aidan Cross, especially in the heartbreaking Not While I’m Around.

typically challenging

And they all have enviable voices, adapting to whatever the typically challenging Sondheim score, stylishly played by Ian Sutherland’s band, demands.

The cast of Sweeney Todd in the 2017 EdFringe production. Pic: Captivate

The singing of the ensemble – Rae Mitchell, Sarah Louise Christie, Georgia Lee Roberts, Seb Lim Seet and Meg Laid Drummond – is superb. The harmonies are sweet at times, menacing at others, and the diction is as clear as the bells of St Clements.

The energy of the Victorians who populate this darkest of Londons makes Scotland’s much-lauded wind farms redundant, as the citizens mooch menacingly, whiz around with props or line up to die. The ladies deserve extra credit for managing to sing at all in the tight corsets clever costumer Vari Gardner has them in…

The staging by directors Sally Lyell and Tom Mullins is as successful as it is imaginative. I’ve seen shows with minimal props many times, but seldom pulled off so successful. Apart from a rolling pin and a barber’s chair, we’re in a world of crates – crates which, in endless combinations, become a swanky mansion, a bawdy bar, an asylum, a baker’s over… you won’t come out of this show whistling the scenery, but you will be marvelling at how well London was evoked with so little. Every musical number is a mini-masterpiece of visionary staging, with God That’s Good, which sees the ensemble appreciating Mrs Lovett’s mystery new recipes, a particular treat.

Lighting and sound also play a part in this production’s success, as Craig Dixon provides a great visual shorthand for death, and Ian Cunningham provides the matching auditory effects.

If you like musicals, new ideas for pies or simply great theatre, attend the tale of Sweeney Todd.

Running time: Two hours and 20 minutes (including one interval).
The Brunton, Ladywell Way, Musselburgh EH21 6AA.
Thursday 26 – Saturday 28 April 2018
Evenings: 7.30pm.
Tickets and details: www.thebrunton.co.uk.

Captivate website: www.captivatetheatre.com.
Facebook: @captivatetheatre
Twitter: @Captivate_LTD


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