Scene It: Sweeney Todd, darkly disturbed & deliciously indulgent!

March 1, 2016

Hi, my name is Barbara, and I am a Stephen Sondheim groupie. There is something that I call the Sondheim sound. My heart can instinctively hear it in any of his shows, from Into the Woods to Company (my favourite!), and it is definitely there in Sweeney Todd too.


Sondheim musicals are the ones with a sadder, sometimes darker, edge. Sondheim musicals are the real issue musicals, usually using romance or comedy to dish up the harsh reality of fear, cruelty, abuse or prejudice. In short, Sondheim musicals are anything but typical!


In my opinion there are few typical or even untypical musicals as dark and disturbingly indulgent of its darkness as Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street... and I love it! Weaving a web of revenge fuelled by injustice, Sondheim’s music and lyrics complement the book by Hugh Wheeler. It leaves wounds exposed and emotions laid bare. The characters forgive nothing, resulting in the audience forgiving everything of the very flawed Mr Todd.


There were definite goose flesh moments when I sat down for a close shave at Theatre on the Bay, as I once again bonded with Mr Sondheim. Even though I know the story and the music well, the cast directed by Steven Stead in this Pieter Toerien and KickstArt presented production of Sweeney Todd still managed to make me giggle guiltily, jump a little in my seat, and even question what I knew would happen next. It takes great skill to put the element of surprise back into such a well-known story. Was it a great theatre night out? Definitely!

Even though great, it was technically not a flawless performance. On the night it was a solid 3½ star show. However, as one of my theatre friends always says, one forgives much on an opening night, because we are all human and jitters are only natural. I think it may be a case of the cast being in a regrouping phase, the sound still finding that perfect venue bass and everyone just settling into a new stage space after having a long break since showing in Joburg end 2015. By the time I press the publish button on this #SceneIt, I am convinced all technical kinks would have been addressed, with it being a solid 4 star show again already, if not more!


I loved the sassy energy the talented Charon Williams-Ros brings to the Mrs Lovett role, and Jonathan Roxmouth definitely commands the stage and demands your attention as Sweeney Todd. Though I don’t know if it’s a character choice (as attempt to sound fiercer) or just something that slipped in, but at times it sounded like Mr Todd was so angry he was singing a bit into his teeth. If a choice, the only concern is that the clenched jaw does make the Barber sound slightly nasal every now and then. Those moments are however very few and totally overshadowed by an overall brilliant performance. Apart from that bugbear and one or two pitchy notes from Sanli Jooste as Johanne Barker (Todd’s beautiful ‘lost’ daughter), the whole cast came together beautifully to make me scooch ever closer to the edge of my seat, elbows on knees, head propped in hands, totally immersed and completely transported to grimy and smoggy Fleet Street!


My Sondheim obsessive-side asbolutely loved the off-beat Fogg's Asylum scene most. I think it was perfectly executed with just the right touch of disturbed commitment by all. This was the moment for me when everything really came together.


As the play progressed I also found myself captivated by the depth of Jaco van Rensburg's performance as the beloved assistant Toby. To be honest, if I think back on the night’s performance, his face and voice is the 1st that I now associate with this production of Sweeney Todd, followed closely by the ever impressive Roxmouth. Another performance of note was definitely that of Germandt Geldenhuys as the over-the-top charlatan Adolfo Pirelli. You can't but grin and give an appreciative nod at the delightful arrogance of his character.

The overall slick performance of a great cast is complimented by a very 19th century London set feel, with clever use of limited space. Though some may describe the set as old school in design, and question why the latest smoke and mirror techniques aren’t used, I am actually very happy that Greg King stayed true to a classic design. I do have a big tip for you though… as the set is upstairs-downstairs in design, the best place to sit to get the full visual and most amazing Sweeney Todd experience is in rows AA and BB on the balcony. Those are the money seats for this one!


As a complete package I honestly loved Sweeney Todd, and got more excited with every moment as the darkness in the music stewed and eventually boiled over. I loved it so much, I am already planning another theatre night out with friends to go visit our favourite darkly disturbed, but oh so deliciously devilish, Barber!


Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is on stage at Theatre on the Bay until 9 April 2016. Tickets range from R125 to R350, with booking via Computicket.



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