‘Bloody’ Wonderful: ‘Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber Of Fleet St’ @ The Adelphi

March 14, 2012

Theatre Reviews

Jonathan Kent’s revival of Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street‘ has just arrived at London’s Adelphi Theatre after a successful run at the 2011 Chichester Festival.

Starring Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton as the lead characters, Sweeney Todd and Mrs Lovett, this is one of Sondheim’s most complex and demanding musicals, but fortunately both actors are clearly up to the task. Ball, who we usually associate with cheerful and expansive roles, is absolutely terrifying as the menacing ex-convict who conceals a murderous, howling rage beneath his buttoned-up and respectable exterior, while Staunton plays the greedy and lovesick pie-maker with a wonderful comedic edge – her little asides had the audience in stitches, despite the macabre subject of the songs.

They’re ably supported by a superb cast - well known theatre and TV faces Peter Polycarpou and John Bowe are particularly impressive as the beadle and the judge, and I was also wowed by the very powerful chorus – usually relegated to quietly harmonising the leads’ parts in musicals, here they almost act as another character. On a musical note, one of the reasons that the songs are so effective in Sweeney Todd is the result of an act of genius by Sondheim – if you go to watch the show note that ‘good’ characters all sing in soaring  major keys, but when the tune is taken by an ‘evil’ character it immediately drops into a darker minor key. Most people won’t notice this musical sleight of hand, but its subliminal effect is unmistakeable. My particular favourites? The cannibalistic ‘A Little Priest’ has moments of wonderful verbal dexterity, and the poignant ‘By The Sea’, with its mournful brass harmonies, really shows off Imelda Staunton’s surprisingly powerful singing voice. However the musical’s best song, in my opinion, is ‘Not While I’m Around’ which cuts through the blood and the gore with the pure sound of innocence and unconditional love…

The multi-level stage set by Anthony Ward is also worth mentioning, as it wonderfully evokes the dimly lit and grimy streets of London’s early Victorian East End, while an ingeniously designed raised platform is used to great effect for the gory death scenes which mark this show apart from its more sugary compatriots elsewhere in the West End.

I highly recommend a visit to this run of ‘Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street’. There’s absolutely nothing like it on the London stage right now, and who could say no to a night with Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton? The show runs until 22 September, with tickets on sale for £20 and up. Tickets are also available on the door for £25 on the day of the show, and if you pick a quiet night you might find that your £25 finds you in a very good seat. If you take that option do turn up as early in the week as you can because this is already proving to be a very popular show…

If you’ve enjoyed reading this review and are planning to go along to the show, we would really appreciate it if you would consider using the following links to purchase your tickets. Any tickets or hotel and ticket packages purchased through these sites will help us to support the continued development of the Londoneer. Many thanks!

About The Londoneer

Pete Stean is a keen blogger, amateur photographer, singer and ham radio enthusiast in his spare time... Google+

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4 Responses to “‘Bloody’ Wonderful: ‘Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber Of Fleet St’ @ The Adelphi”

  1. Emm Says:

    Oh! Now that is a surprise! For some reason I didn’t expect this to be very good so I am glad I have read such a glowing review. I will definitely try catch this during the summ et.
    Emm recently posted..Photowalk: Highgate Wood to Alexandra Palace


    • The Londoneer Says:

      I really enjoyed it – I should do West End shows more often. I can’t overstate how good Imelda Staunton’s performance actually was, but after all the lead role in Sweeney Todd is actually Mrs Lovett…


  2. Sunshine304 Says:

    This sounds really great – I will definitely check it out when I’m in London in September. I was never particularly fond of Michael Ball, but I love “Sweeney Todd” and Imelda Staunton is great, so it’s enough reason to watch this show. :)


    • The Londoneer Says:

      It’s a really good show – many people think it’s more opera than musical, and I can see where they’re coming from. Watching Sweeney Todd is a very emotional experience – I just hope that Imelda Staunton and Michael Ball are still playing the leads when you’re over here…


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