Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Sweeney Todd - The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

 It's my second time I've seen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd after seeing an Opera North production once in the past.  The joint West Yorkshire Playhouse/Royal Exchange Theatre production is currently on in Leeds and will transfer to Manchester after its run.  James Brining, Artistic Director for West Yorkshire Playhouse, is directing this production following a similar one which he directed at the Dundee Rep.

Sondheim wrote the music and lyrics and Sweeney Todd is based on Hugh Wheeler's book.  Angela Lansbury (known in Murder She Wrote TV series) and Len Cariou starred in the original production.  It became one of Sondheim's popular musicals and subsequent revisions were produced including a Chichester Festival Theatre production in 2011/12 starring Imelda Stauton and Michael Ball.  Many will also know Tim Burton's film adaption starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter in 2007.

Brining wanted Sweeney Todd to attract the audience - not just enjoying a classical musical but also to think about the messages raised and how these relate to us in the world today especially politically.  In the programme, Brining discussed this further with Stuart Leeks and how society can make or break people followed by consequences (Brining and Leeks 2013).

It's interesting to see how the staging was set in a modern era which is cleverly designed by Colin Richmond and Chris Davey and set to the original musical score used and directed by George Dyer.  I think it's important for the audience to connect to the social and political context of the musical both in the Victorian times and also today.

I remember, when growing up in the 1980s, the social and political disillusion, the gap between the rich and the poor and the hierarchy of powerful people.  It's only decades later that you realise the corruption and consequences from these issues mentioned especially in the media and also from reflecting on personal experiences.  Sweeney Todd tells the story about being a victim of injustice and the manipulation of power from society and this lead to Sweeney to becoming revengeful to those who were in position of trust to society.  Brining summarised about modernising the production is 'that it has a connection with us at a more immediate societal level' (Brining 2013).

We had an exceptional cast with David Birrell as Sweeney Todd and Gillian Beven as Mrs Lovett.  It was great seeing Don Gallagher (Judge Turpin) and Niamh Perry (Johanna) whom I've seen in Priscilla (2011) and Love Never Dies (2010) respectively.

I thoroughly enjoyed Sweeney Todd and seeing it for the second time has made me appreciate the musical even more.  A big thanks for a great production to both the cast and creative team.  Sweeney Todd is currently running at the West Yorkshire Playhouse until 26th October 2013 and will transfer to Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre afterwards.  This production is highly recommended!

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