Michael Ball's performance as Sweeney was nothing short of the ultimate mastery of a role.
by Melinda Hughes
My last visit to the Adelphi was less than successful – a walk-out during the interval of Love Never Dies. Thank goodness Sweeney Todd lived up to higher expectations. This dark production about a throat-slitting barber and his accomplice has been brought forward from Victorian times to the 1930s.
After the screech of a factory whistle, the genius of Sondheim kicks in. The chorus had the best diction I’ve ever heard outside of an opera house, likewise the band (far surpassing the average West End band) was superbly conducted by Nicholas Skilbeck.
The story of course is not for the faint-hearted and there are the obligatory blood and guts as one would expect, yet the deeper references and symbolism of ‘man eating man’ and the abused becoming the abuser are brought out with chilling gravitas.
Imelda Staunton as Mrs Lovett had the audience on her side as soon as she appeared from behind her pie-shop counter delighting us with a gutsy and gruesome rendition of ‘The worst pies in London’. Her comic timing and delivery of ingenious lines is superb, but what impressed me most was Michael Ball’s performance. I’ve seen him in countless shows over the years but his performance as Sweeney was nothing short of the ultimate mastery of a role. He was so powerfully still and menacing. He was utterly transfixing in the role, worthy of an Olivier Award without a doubt.
Superb performances were also given by John Bowe as the odious self-flagellating Judge Turpin, Peter Polycarpou as Beadle Bamford, Robert Burt as Pirelli and Gillian Kirkpatrick as the Beggar Woman. Luke Brady’s Anthony and James McConville as Pirelli’s assistant added to a strong cast.
Lucy May Barker’s Joanna was slightly too much on the musical theatre side of singing which didn’t do justice to the coloratura in her aria ‘Green Finch and Linnet Bird’. I feel vocally she was somewhat miscast and would have liked to hear a more beautiful lyric line and sound. For some inexplicable reason, opera singers are hardly ever cast in West End shows… Perhaps they think we can’t act. They should think again.
'Green Finch and Linnet Bird' from the movie Sweeney Todd
What I read particularly in to this interpretation was that everyone living in London will inevitably be brought to the edge of insanity simply by existing in this cruel, greedy and unforgiving city. Innocence does not last long and we are inevitably corrupted. Not much has changed then. So if we are all doomed, let’s at least enjoy a night out at this hugely entertaining show, which had a long standing ovation. Sweeney Todd is simply not to be missed.