Sondheim’s haunting score rang through the rafters of the Mercury Theatre in Colchester last night as their latest show-stopper production, Sweeney Todd, took to the stage upon a revolving set.
Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s grisly musical is a well known tale, successfully brought to life by an excellent ensemble, led by the hugely talented Hugh Maynard as the demon barber himself. Maynard’s authentic depiction of Sweeney delivered a powerful performance, often difficult to achieve in a smaller, more enclosed space. Laced with emotion, Maynard’s powerhouse vocals and stoic demeanour effectively roused a sense of fear within the audience.
Sophie-Louise Dann stole the show, bringing much-needed comic relief as monstrous pie maker, Mrs Lovett – Sweeney’s accomplice on his quest for revenge – whose brilliant vocals and comic undertaking enlivened the whole production, as does the brilliant Simon Shorten as the hilarious Signor Pirelli.
There is no dumbing down of the show for its shorter run/smaller space and, under the direction of Daniel Buckroyd, the intensity and thrill found in many West End theatres is successfully achieved in this Colchester venue, with a well executed balance of horror and humour, though there was room for more gore. Stage blood is often aplenty in Sondheim’s masterpiece, though it was far more subtly used in this production, which may please some, though I missed the spectacularly chilling effect a spray of blood across the stage has had in previous productions. Though David Durham as Judge Turpin delivered a commanding and truly sinister performance that more than made up for it.
A dark Victorian set transports us to plague-ridden London, with a series of clever transformations taking place during the interval, including the installation of a pie oven and rather grotesque mincing machine that turns a few stomachs in act two. There isn’t a cast member who didn’t stand out during the night, with most switching seamlessly between character and ensemble without losing any of the story’s effect, each delivering an outstanding vocal performance. There’s no doubt the infamous Fleet Street barber is well worth a visit this autumn.
Images: Robert Day