Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet StreetEveryman Theatre
Nick Bagnall’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s gory musical thriller, SWEENEY TODD is a masterpiece in its own right and a homecoming show for The Everyman Theatre, so to speak. 1970 saw Alan Dosser’s version of the play produced on The Everyman boards, leaving rather large shoes for Bagnall to fill with his own interpretation. And fill them he does.
Originally written by Chris Bond and given the musical treatment by Sondheim, SWEENEY TODD has become a well-established classic for theatre and film fans alike. Given the Hollywood makeover in 2007 by Tim Burton, Johnny Depp’s version of the demon barber is what we have all come to imagine in our head when it’s brought up. However, from now on, Bagnall’s version is what will stick in my mind. Stripping the story back to its gritty roots of poverty, exploitation and revenge and removing the over-the-top Victoriana and stage props, Bagnall has gone back to basics and produced a show worthy of its original intentions.
His bare bones approach begins with a slimmed down cast and staging. Nine actors, a four piece orchestra and a dozen chairs are essentially the only things on the Everyman’s intimate stage. The lack of intricate staging is by no means a downfall, as it allows for the imaginative lighting, impressive use of stage and the impeccable voices of the cast to shine through. The musicians become part of the action too as the violinist and clarinet player interweave between the actors as they harmonise to perfection everything from There’s No Place Like London to The Worst Pies in London and My Friends. You would think there was a fifty plus ensemble hidden in the rafters for the power and complexity that comes from the group’s performances; yet it’s just these nine. The actors use poles to manually push a revolving grid-like stage in the middle of the floor, adding to the working class themes that run throughout the play; as buckets of congealed blood and guts gathered from Todd’s tonsorial parlour are poured down straight into Mrs Lovett’s special pies.
It wouldn’t be Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street without pies after all. Shepherd Pies, Bishop pies, Lawyer pies (if you know, you know), pies falling from the ceiling, pies given to the audience, pies everywhere! However, there would be no pies without Mrs Lovett who drives the plot as much as Todd does. We have an amazing performance from Kacey Ainsworth to thank for this. Ainsworth’s portrayal of Mrs Lovett is refreshing and almost relatable as she represents an unconventional business women on a quest to keep herself a float and earn the love of Mr Todd. Her rendition of By The Sea is also a standout moment of the evening as she shows Mrs Lovett’s softer side with her voice and acting abilities.
Liam Tobin’s portrayal of Sweeney Todd himself is the perfect accompaniment to Ainsworth’s Lovett. Donned in denim dungarees rather than a Victorian suit and grey streaked hair, Bagnall’s Todd is much more of a social commentary on politics than those in the past. Tobin not only plays his role with the right amount of composure and aggression, his passionate vocals also lean towards a Todd we can relate to.
It’s not all doom, gloom, blood and pies however as moments of comedy gold from Dean Nolan as the flamboyant Pirelli and Mark Rice-Oxley as corrupt cop Beadle Bamford raise many a laugh from the audience. With notable support from Paul Duckworth as Judge Turpin and Keziah Joseph as the prized Johanna, Bagnall’s SWEENEY TODD is entertaining, relevant, fresh and probably one of the best productions I have seen at Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre. More pies please!