Watermill - Sweeney Todd
4th February to 27th March 2004.
From the Daily Telegraph.
Glorious blend of beautiful lyricism, magnificent score - and gallons of blood
Feeling somewhat apprehensive, I took my 10-year-old son to see Stephen
Sondheim's Sweeney Todd at the Watermill. This, after all, is a show that
features rape, insanity, serial killings and the most terrible pies in
London - and Edward is ridiculously fussy about his food. Of course, he
loved every minute.
From the Guardian.
Sondheim's piece is as much a study of corruption as anything else, and
it shines a spotlight on all our monstrous desires. Judge Turpin lusts after
the girl he has brought up as his daughter, Mrs Lovett jettisons truth and
conscience as she yearns for Sweeney, and the latter's increasingly
uncontrolled murderous appetites lead him to kill the thing he loves.
From the Newbury Weekly News.
Blood and gore in directors' cut
Sweeney Todd -The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, at the Watermill Theatre, until March 27
There are no other words for it: director/designer John Doyle and musical director/arranger Sarah Travis' latest production is bloody marvellous. Those who regard Mary Poppins as high drama may not appreciate Stephen Sondheim's gory musical but even they must marvel at the extraordinary feat these nine actor/musicians have performed in mastering this complex production in just over four weeks - including in some cases learning to play an instrument.
Why there is no access to the auditorium until five minutes before curtain up must remain a secret and more surprises wait in this tale of the embittered barber of Fleet Street, returned from a 15-year absence to hear that his wife had died and his daughter was a prisoner.
Paul Hegarty was magnificently strong as the brooding, pallid Sweeney, eaten up with a craving for revenge and, when not slashing throats, gazing at the audience with glacial eyes as if seeking another victim.
In contrast Karen Mann poured warmth into the role of pie-maker Mrs Lovett, trying to win Sweeney's non-existent heart. The duet in which the two compared different professions for pie content was gloriously ghastly - Rear Admiral? Too salty. General? Available with or without privates - 'privates is more'. Shepherds pie? With real shepherds!
Amid the horror, the pure voice of Rebecca Jenkins (Sweeney's daughter Johanna) wove a strand of beauty and Sondheim's Johanna, sung by her lover Anthony (David Ricardo-Pearce), was a song to echo in the memory, unbearably poignant when reprised by her father.
With limited space it was a case of 'who's free to pour the blood', said Rebecca Jackson, whose keening as the old beggar woman added an eerie, wretched edge, at the after-show talkback. Creepy Beadle (Michael Howcroft), judge (Colin Wakefield), potion maker Pirelli (Stephanie Jacob) and Tobias (Sam Kenyon as Mrs Lovett's son) - everyone manipulated the props, including a coffin and step-ladders, used ingeniously to gain stepped height. That part of the back wall not taken up by a giant dresser glinted red between the boards as it did through the floor, a reminder of ever-present evil.
It would take several visits to appreciate every ingenious detail providing the framework to bring to life the disturbing tragedy of Sweeney Todd. In spite of the blood there was an appalling humour and most horrifying of all was at the moment of throat slashing, with the cast transfixed, seen in a haze of red.
You find your mouth stretching into a hideous smile, making you part of the whole, bloody superb performance.
From Newbury Theatre.
The Watermill have got another hit on their hands with Sweeney Todd. It's a marvellous combination of comedy and thriller, and its claustrophobic atmosphere is just right for the Watermill's tiny stage. Paul Hegarty is a moody, brooding Todd, only lightening up a bit when singing about the pies produced from his victims, with Karen Mann who makes a cheeky, chipper Mrs Lovell.
As usual with John Doyle's productions, the cast make the music too, on a variety of instruments, and Stephen Sondheim's clever words bring humour to contrast with the grisly killings, played out in a stylised way with red lights, slow motion, a piercing whistle and blood poured from pail to pail.
With each killing, the whistle got less loud - Todd's highs became less intense as he got desensitised to the killings, needing to do more and more to feed his habit.
I loved it, and great to see the Watermill back in such good form at the start of the season.
Postscript: I got my hair cut at Salvos in Reading today, and turned pale as the barber approached me with the cutthroat razor...
There is a 3-star review by Judi Herman at WhatsOnStage ("[setting the production in a lunatic asylum] slows down the action, adding unnecessary business before it even gets underway... sometimes the instruments get in the way... and the costumes dont work for me either... nonetheless, the power of the piece, at once arousing and chilling, does come through, largely thanks to some powerful performances").