Pros: Strong acting which created a present, dark and twisted atmosphere
Cons: Some risky creative choices were made which didn’t quite land for me and seemed peculiar
Best known for it’s miraculous ability to engage with both the twisted and the tender, Sondheim’s musical Sweeney Todd is a tough balancing act to pull off. The play delves into the dirty streets of London and follows the vengeful and murderous actions of Todd as he desperately tries to reclaim his daughter from the Judge who stole his wife and banished him. Ethereal Theatre Company grabbed this classic by the (bloody) throat and breathed a fresh new lease of life into it. Energy was at maximum despite the relentless heat in the theatre and the zealous company showed no sign of fatigue as they delivered punchy and powerful performances for the entirety of the play.
A large ensemble brought themes of unease and mischief to the deeds of Todd, as manic laughter and hellish squeals punctuated each slice of the razor and each sinister expression of revenge. Additionally, the twisted impish physicality of the ensemble scuttling amidst the audience, gave great weight to the dark and unholy atmosphere Wheeler’s novel creates. This excellent direction from Marc Zayat carried over to the principals with Kieran Faulkner’s chilling and calculating Todd and Ciara Waterfield’s deadly and devoted Lovett exploding together to create a wonderfully dynamic duo. Standout performances also came from Rob Wilson’s adorably endearing portrayal of Anthony Hope and Daniel Glock’s slimy Beadle; both a joy to watch.
For the most part the vocals were gripping, bar a few questionable notes in trickier songs, and the actors were able to really place their stamp on the well known score. Piercing and abrupt harmonies in every reprise of ‘The Ballad of Sweeney Todd’ were so powerfully done; deliciously sharp and somewhat reminiscent of the underscore to Hitchcock’s Psycho. This was well complimented by frantic and disjointed choreography conjuring panic and demonic iconography. However, in places, I felt the choreography was out of place and detracted from the softer scenes such as in ‘Wait’ and the production could have demanded more of itself to place the narrative as priority in these moments. Despite the fantastic dancing abilities of many ensemble members, these should have been minimally utilised in a play such as Sweeney Todd.
The set was simple yet integrated fantastically into the piece with wooden crates being the literal building blocks of some scenes. This was effective, smooth and allowed the play to maintain it’s fluidity. The set was complimented by some beautiful cold washes and strong blood red strobes within the lighting design yet some lighting states felt slightly lacking and the changes between them was sometimes a bit to noticeable and fractured some of the scenes. Technically the piece has brilliant potential.
A fantastic band, electric actors and some clever direction, this revival of Sweeney Todd definitely delivers something new and is thoroughly engaging and devilishly delightful to watch. If you have the chance to catch it at the Edinburgh Fringe, don’t miss it! It retains all the gothic pull of the original with some fantastic fresh blood delivering a new angle on the ever loved musical.
Book by: Hugh Wheeler
Music and lyrics by: Stephen Sondheim
Directed by: Marc Zayat
Choreographed by: Dana Hudson
Musical Direction from: Ben Dovey
Produced by: Ethereal Theatre
Booking Link: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/sweeney-todd-the-demon-barber-of-fleet-street
Booking Until: 27th August 2018