Review: WNO - Sweeney Todd @ WMC
Welsh National Opera - Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Wales Millennium Centre
Friday 9th October 2015
Sanity is restored in this season of "madness", as WNO finish for the year with a musical. It's an ideal success story.
Very few musicals take the daring step to alter the setting and themes. It's quite a risk, yet we see this much more in opera and theatre. Given a sort of 1980s make over in James Brining's production, London is still very grimy and the general sense of a futile nature lingers over these homeless people and workers. Shipping crates, old style cafes and the 80s fashion sense are all apparent in this decent update. Things have not change that much since the Victorian era, according to this show.
After returning home from Australia from an unjustified 15 year jail sentence, Benjamin Barker (Todd's original name) arrives back in London. He seeks to find his wife and daughter, with very little success (and tragic consequences). With the help of Mrs Lovett, the maker of "the worst pies in London", they both begin the hunt for Judge Turpin, who caused all his grievances. With a plan to also cook people in Lovett's pies, the two commence their murderous and wealthy rampage for justice. Thus Sweeney Todd is ready to pick up his razors once more...
Stephen Sondheim's musical (or as he put it "a film for the stage"), has a clever use of wordplay and a score of operatic proportions (the Dies Irae Latin Mass is used heavily). It's great to hear a full orchestra play this. With smashing orchestration, with piercing percussion and organ music, the appetite for innovative music is appeased early on into the work and continues till the end. The WNO Chorus added a great operatic sheen, that would never be heard in most musicals.
This "demon barber" is here played by David Arnsperger. He deals with the character in an almost nonchalant delivery, only really losing his sanity in the keys moments of desperation. His offering a certain few audiences members a shave (there were no takers) was spine chilling, prior to his cut throat endeavours. His swift, throat silting of customers in the act two opener, is hilarious and even stomach turning. Mrs Lovett is the laughter fuel, no nonsense, like EastEnders' Janis Kelly. She no doubt, had a really good time playing this part. Jamie Muscato, tellingly good musical fair, as Anthony with his haunting cries of "I'll steal you, Johanna".
His lover here performed by Soraya Mafi, in a passionate portrait of a young girl constantly held as a victim, but still full of hope. George Ure, the cute, scamp Tobias, Todd's assistant with a swell singing voice and an adorable cockney interpretation. Paul Charles Clark as a brief comic relief as Pirelli, the mock Italian barber, keen to get Todd out of business, leading to grave consequences. Steven Page as the real villain (with mock booing from the audience at the curtain) as Judge Turpin, flogging himself in one scene, near molesting Johanna, his adopted daughter in the next. He gets what he deserves.
A show for fans of gore, dark humour & musical magic.
Devilishly good theatre.
Rating: 4 stars
Sweeney Todd runs at the WMC from the 24th till the 29th November 2015.
Note from Weeping Tudor: "Like my namesake, a brand new theatre company is to be born. Weeping Tudor Productions shall stage rare, new and LGBT+ works. You can donate here via Kickstarter for our inaugural piece, Medusa's Trap by Erik Satie. Find out more in my article on theSprout here."