Set in London in the 1900s, Sweeney Todd is the urban legend of a barber who slits the throats of his customers and sends the corpses to his partner-in-crime, Mrs Lovett, who serves them up in pies. Sondheim has set this horrific tale to an eerie score with a hint of dark humour.
Sitting in the theatre watching the Ignatians Musical Society’s production of Sweeney Todd, I felt chills run down my spine. Director, John Peek, has successfully pieced this complex tale together using Sondheim’s wit to its fullest potential.
This direction is well served by the vocally strong cast who weave around the stage and jump from the shadows to tell the story. The orchestra is powerful under the musical direction of Edgar Chan and Ben Murray. There were times when I felt the performers struggled to keep up with the orchestra or vice-versa, but Sondheim is known for his complex scores, so this is not an uncommon problem.
The design included an effectively used revolving stage, allowing for effortless transitions between scenes and a range of locations for the characters. The dimly lit stage lighting helped set the scene but I was disappointed when it was not dim enough to see actors exit from behind scenery.
I cannot speak highly enough of the lead performers, each giving a dedication to their role so rarely seen in non-professional theatre.
Sweeney, played by Joshua Rowe, is haunting, distracted and aloof – I would not want to meet him in a dark alley. His voice is strong, controlled and he wears this character like a favourite jacket – worn and comfortable. Rowe’s chemistry with Miranda Selwood’s Mrs Lovett is solid. A highlight was their rendition of “A Little Priest”, where their dark humour and sense of play make the audience laugh, even if they feel they shouldn’t.
Selwood’s comic timing is perfect – the love torn Mrs Lovett has a certain innocence with a hint of pure evil. You will need to go and see for yourself what a delight she is to watch.
Chis Kellett gave a huge amount of dedication to the role of Judge Turpin. The director has taken the character to the next level and Kellet has pushed those limits. The Judge is a sick, sick man and we really see this come through in what Kellett brings to his performance.
Ben Hickey who plays young Toby seemed to take a while to warm into his character, though this may be due to opening night nerves. Unfortunately, he was lost within the ensemble in his first number Pirelli’s Miracle Elixir, but the tender dedication to Mrs Lovett in “Not While I’m Around” was evident as he settled into the role.
James Gauci (playing Anthony Hope) and Jordana Peek (playing Johanna Barker) easily play the love struck pair. Gauci is so at ease with Sondheim’s intricate melodies, he plays the perfect hero.
I must make mention of Sarah Jensen whose beautiful voice turns from pretty song into ugly obscenities and back so faultlessly as the crazy beggar woman Lucy Barker did a magnificent job.
The whole production of Sweeney Todd grabbed me by the throat and pulled me in.
For a non-professional company, Ignatians is really shinning with productions like Sweeney Todd. I would highly recommend that you ‘attend this tale of Sweeney Todd’ – but leave the kiddies at home!