Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street is funny and macabre simultaneously, with plenty of dark, dry gallows humour and songs with extremely clever lyrics. It blends camp melodrama with sly humour, and cheap shocks with sophisticated music that is almost operatic in its scale. By LESLEY STONES.
Humans have an eternal fascination with ghoulish horror that will always bubble up beneath whatever veneer of sophistication we achieve.
Which explains our fascination with stories like Jack the Ripper and our own home-grown horror stories. That should draw a good audience for the chills and thrills being delivered by Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
It stars South Africa’s favourite musical performer Jonathan Roxmouth, backed a strong cast who all step up the level of menace superbly.
Todd is a fictional character first created in a Victorian melodrama that was published in 18 weekly parts in 1846. The character became a popular figure for various plays and stories and was turned into this full-blown Broadway musical by Hugh Wheeler, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.
It’s funny and macabre simultaneously, with plenty of dark, dry gallows humour and songs with extremely clever lyrics.
Director Steven Stead calls it a “delicious monster of a musical”, blending camp melodrama with sly humour and cheap shocks with sophisticated music that is almost operatic in its scale.
Roxmouth is brilliant as Todd, finally digging up his dark side and revelling in it. The menace prowls in his voice, his movements and expression as the brooding barber, fixated on revenge and happy to dispatch a whole lot of innocents on the way.
He’s matched and sometimes even outshone by Charon Williams-Ros as Mrs Lovett, his partner in crime who cunningly devises a tasty range of meat pies to turn the dead bodies into a useful business. As demand for the new line of pies booms, the barber’s lethal cut-throat razor starts working overtime.
Williams-Ros throws her ample self into the part superbly, getting all the best lines and delivering a bawdy performance. She also does the very useful job of telling us the background story of the barber who was deported to Australia years earlier because the crooked, lustful Judge Turpin (Michael Richard) coveted his wife. With the barber off the scene, the judge defiled his pretty wife driving her to take an overdose and leaving their lovely daughter, Joanna, to grow up alone.
Now the barber is back with the new name of Sweeney Todd and an old score to settle.
Richard is memorable as the evil judge with a nasty sideline in paedophilia, grimly stomping his authority through the streets.
The show is played for pure entertainment value rather than shock and horror, so the macabre tale is laced with a witty smattering of repartee as sharp as the razor blades.
The set by Greg King is excellent, capturing grimy old London with a split-level to give us the barber shop in the attic. Its cleverness unfolds on you slowly, when what you thought was an alley turns into the cell of a madhouse, and an oven door appears where we thought there was a wall.
The lighting is also fabulous, casting a dramatic spooky pall over many of the scenes, and giving the chorus line a ghoulish disembodied effect.
Although the music is prerecorded rather than live and I couldn’t always hear all of the words from the chorus, neither of those detracted from the overall class of this excellent production. DM
All photos by Val Adamson.
Sweeney Todd runs at Montecasino Theatre until 29 November then moves to Cape Town’s Theatre on the Bay from 19 February until 9 April, 2016.
Tickets from Computicket.