Review of ‘Sweeney Todd’: “As English as human pie”

The horrifying lore has been resurrected with the return of one of its very first stage adaptations. Guillermo Nazara shares his vision about this new production by Opera della Luna, to give us a razor-sharp account on this old-style performance of the legendary tale.

“I ‘m gonna destroy you and eat you”. Enough of my dating app messages. And let’s get down to the business you’ve all come to read about: slicing people’s throats to make minced meat pies. You know what? Times are tough. And if politicians told us that foil helps heat our flats, well… Anyway, the thing is that the world’s most (in)famous barber returned to his hometown last week – moving his little shop of horrors only a few blocks away from the ghoulish allure of Fleet Street.

Sweeney Todd – The Victorian Melodrama is in fact more than one more adaptation of the trendy potboiler tale. It’s actually the first ever made – commissioned and developed even before the end of the ‘penny dreadful’ series which originated the plot, and its subsequent myth (rumour says the b*stard was for real). A dedicated homage to the amusement that populated the London stages in the 19th century, this new production should be regarded as such: a historical reenactment of what plays used to be like back in the time.

That’s precisely the feeling that you get when watching it – to have been dropped into another era, where everything surrounding you (even the audience) seems to be from a period you don’t know, but are enticed to explore. The faithfulness to the material is praisable, but such blessing is occasionally a curse to the entire montage. Its cultural values are unquestionable – however, the entertainment is sacrificed on several moments through some scenes that are either too slow or slightly unnecessary.

This, nonetheless, does not stop you from enjoying yourself once you get into its farcical style. As shows used to be in that day (I know because I still remember), the acting is heavily exaggerated and the overall vibe is, in general, old-fashioned camp. But it works, and sometimes, even charms. Directed by Jeff Clarke, the cast is able to give likable renditions, hilarious on more than a few moments and also capable of involving the audience into the narrative. We did utter a lot of ‘boos’ that night, but none of them were because we weren’t having fun.

Relying on a minimalist set design (credit to Elroy Ashmore), the visuals of this version are no doubt its highest point. The use of patterned muslin, combined with Paul Knott’s suggestive lighting, are close to perfection as for what good staging must be: it creates an atmosphere that integrates both the story and the venue, resulting in its viewers being fully immersed into the universe they’ve been presented with.

Sweeney Todd has remained as an audience fave for over a century. After all, nothing is more lovable than a ruthless murderer that kills for pleasure (no wonder I have so many friends). Though not the grandest spectacle or artistic creation you may find, this vaudevile is by all means a nice achievement in theatrical research, preserving the traditions that, some way or another, have contributed to the contents we consume today – and providing us with another sort of leisure that is horridly engaging.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

All pictures credit to Andy Paradise.

Sweeney Todd played last week at London’s Wilton’s Music Hall.

By Guillermo Nazara

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