A chilling musical

2014-08-15 00:00

Don’t miss this razor-sharp tale of vengeance, mayhem and love

Review: Sweeney Todd

Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre

AMERICAN author Richelle E. Goodrich writes in her novel, The Tarishe Curse, that “vengeance is a monster of appetite, forever bloodthirsty and never filled”.

Those words could quite easily be applied to the title character in Stephen Sondheim’s dark and brooding musical, Sweeney Todd.

Set in London’s seedy backstreets, this musical tells the story of a hard-working barber, Benjamin Barker (Jason Ralph), who was transported to Australia on trumped-up criminal charges by Judge Turpin (Richard Salmon), a man who was in lust with Barker’s wife, Lucy.

With her husband out the way, Turpin rapes Lucy and then takes her child, Joanna, away from her.

Sixteen years later, Barker, who has escaped his prison, is back in London.

Now using the name Sweeney Todd, he meets pie-maker, Mrs Lovett (Charon Williams-Ros), who tells him his wife is dead and his daughter is the ward of his enemy.

The news drives him mad, and he wants nothing more than to take revenge on the judge and his assistant, Beadle Bamford (Darren King). But how?

The answer lies in the razors of his trade. He’ll get the two men in his chair and give them the closest of shaves.

And if anyone gets in the way of his quest for justice and retribution, well he and Mrs Lovett have a plan to dispose of them and turn their corpses into meat pies.

Steven Stead, executive director of KickStArt Theatre Company, has drawn from his cast performances that would not be out of place on a West End stage.

Ralph’s tormented Sweeney is riveting to watch, and the longing and pain he feels is beautifully illustrated in his solo number, The Barber and his Wife.

There is also wonderful chemistry between him and Williams-Ros, and their duet, A Little Priest, is a hoot. There is also a touching duet between Williams-Ros and Bryan Hiles, who plays simpleton Tobias Ragg. The words sung in Not While I’m Around have added poignancy when the musical reaches its bloody climax.

There are excellent turns from Lyle Buxton as happy-go-lucky sailor Anthony Hope, who falls in love with Todd’s daughter, Joanna (Sanli Jooste). The latter has a stunning soprano voice that is showcased in Green Finch and Linnet Bird.

Salmon is suitably villainous as Judge Turpin, King brings a real sleaziness to his role as the corrupt beadle and Katy Moore’s beggar woman is tragic in the extreme.

The principals are well supported by a talented ensemble and get to play out the drama of the piece on a superb set created by Greg King. With its different levels, trap door and sliding barber’s chair, it adds depth to any already layered story.

Costumes by Neil Stuart Harris, lighting by Tina le Roux and sound design by Jackie Cunniffe add the finishing touches to a musical that successfully combines comic moments with chilling scenes of murder and mayhem.

Sweeney Todd is, quite simply, a razor-sharp tale of vengeance and true love. It’s also a production that theatre-goers simply cannot afford to miss.

• KICKSTART Theatre Company presents Sweeney Todd at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre at the University of KwaZulu-Natal campus in Durban until August 24. Booking is through Computicket.

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