first night

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Louisa Robinson sharpens her pen to review Van Mildert Musical Society's production of Stephen Sondheim's musical.

Van Mildert Musical Committee transported us back to the Victorian age with their production of Stephen Sondheim’s creepy thriller Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. The killer drama is conveniently located in Van Mildert’s dining hall, which sets the scene for certain Lovett pie delicacies which are in fact the ‘worst pies in London’, and peculiar murder mysteries.


After 15 years spent wrongly exiled in Australia due to Judge Turpin’s corruption, Sweeney Todd arrives back in London determined to seek revenge on those that have wronged him. His trusting allies are found in a young sailor, Anthony Hope, played by Kat Miller, who falls for Turpin’s daughter Johanna (Sophie Ellis) in her goldilocks blond wig, and pie shop owner Mrs.Nellie Lovett played by the formidable Livvie Murphy. The tale depicts corruption, power and business rivalry with Todd’s fellow barber, the Italian Aldolfo Pirelli, and the urge to succeed dominates the cut-throat big smoke.


Miller tries to convince us of her masculine credentials through her deep singing voice and sailor outfit, seducing the judge’s daughter Johanna with much aplomb. Peters as Todd was really secondary to Livvie Murphy who excelled as Mrs.Lovett, complete with cockney rhyming slang and iced glaze charm. Peters was rigid in his murderous technique, and it all became rather like a domino effect with no originality in each scene. In fact, I may argue that the razor carried off a better performance than Peters himself! However, Livvie Murphy as Mrs.Lovett kept the audience entertained throughout with her harmonious singing, and strong stage presence


The main prop devices in this production are Todd’s two famous murder weapons: the rotating chair, and his sharp razor, which are used to maximum theatrical effect. The chair is evidently the most important prop of all, yet to make it function on stage as it does in the text is technically challenging. Although once the victims did have their throat slashed in the chair, Todd pushed them down the ramp and they ended up in the shop where apprentice Tobias Ragg (Emily Gretland) had a pleasant surprise! The audience were only relieved to see no bodily grievances were on show. The employment of the two main prop devices worked to good effect. If a bit more effort had been put into stage design, then all thought of last minute preparation would have been eradicated! The hand-written signs on the table of Mrs.Lovett’s pie shop, foil paper scissors, and the oven/meat grinder are quite am-dram but if design quarrels are brushed aside, some quality acting from Mrs. Lovett is certainly at the core of Sweeney Todd.

17 March 2011

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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