Sweeney Todd carves up the stage

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THE WEBSTER Theatre was transformed at the weekend into 19th Century London for a 4D production.

The Limelight Company presented Broadway and Hollywood hit Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to bloodthirsty audiences from August 29 to September 1.

The Limelight production was based upon the 1979 Steven Sondheim version of the tale, and as such features virtually all dialogue in song form, a very taxing enterprise.

The 4D aspect of the production was most entertaining, with members of the cast venturing into the audience. At one point, the gentleman sitting in front of me was accosted by the evil Beadle Bamford and then sentenced to hang by the corrupt Judge Bamford.

Sondheim’s original score is an exceedingly complex one, consisting of a series of interwoven leitmotifs and refrains, which are used to anchor the story.

The music for the Ballad of Sweeney Todd is one such leitmotif, providing Todd with a theme tune to which his plans for revenge are revealed.

Mike Carlin as Sweeney Todd was a study in psychosis. At once calm and controlled, the next a savage murderer. Carlin was able to humanise his character enough that despite his horrific crimes the audience was able to at least sympathise, if not directly identify, with Todd and his thirst for vengeance.

Cannibal Cockney pie-shop owner Mrs Lovett, played by Marion Allan has what can only be described as a ‘lusty’ singing voice which suited her character perfectly, and her misguided love for Todd was utterly believable.

Chris O’Mara gave a standout performance as Tobias Ragg, the unfortunate young lad sucked into the schemes of Todd and Lovett. His acting and singing were both very strong, and it would be fair to say his final scene was haunting.

Judge Turpin, played by Malcolm Dowie, simply put, was creepy. In a show full of villains, he made Turpin truly vile, and his voice had an incredible weight to it.

Equally creepy, Beadle Bamford (Gordon Holder) was obsequious and lecherous, and like Turpin, Bamford raised a smile with the audience upon his demise.

Scott Ramsay as Anthony and Sara Whitton as Johanna are convincing as the naïve (and disturbingly earnest) young lovers, and their duet in ‘Kiss Me (Part 1)’ is quite touching.

Marlene Kear was very entertaining as the ever-present and mysterious beggar woman who harasses the central cast.

Jonas Hogg (Martin Gregory), is suitably deranged as the hair-selling asylum owner who meets his end at the hands of his former inmate Johanna.

Adolfo Pirelli / Danny O’Higgins, played by Jimmy Gray, switches back and forth from Italian to Irish flawlessly.

During the scene where he battles Todd for the title of best barber in London he does a good job of holding the audience’s attention to allow Todd to work his tonsorial magic on the sidelines. This also serves as an excellent example of how well the cast work together. The chorus eddies back and forth across the stage, Tobias pounds away on his drum and Pirelli pulls the focus towards central stage, meanwhile Todd divests his customer of his beard in a few short strokes.

Praise must go to the stage designers and their crew, their ingenious set construction allowed for very rapid scene changes and kept the action moving fluently.

Conductor Richard Allan can be proud of his orchestra who worked almost non-stop to provide some fantastic music.

It may have been my imagination, but along with the smell of baking, I am fairly certain I could smell shaving foam.

Limelight have once again produced a magnificent show which would easily have swamped most other companies, and carried it off with style and panache.

JR