Originating from a 1970 play by Christopher Bond, this portrayal of the ‘Demon Barber of Fleet Street’ first appeared in 1979. With music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim alongside leading principals Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury, it was inevitable that the production would win both a Tony and an Olivier Award for Best New Musical. It is an unsettling tale of a Victorian-era barber who returns home to London after fifteen years of exile to take revenge on the corrupt judge who ruined his life. When revenge eludes him, Sweeney swears vengeance on the entire human race, murdering as many people as he can, while his business associate, Mrs Lovett, bakes the bodies into meat pies and sells them to the unsuspecting public. With a previous life still unresolved, will Sweeney’s past come back to haunt him?
RAODS are no strangers to performing challenging productions and I was intrigued to see their version of Sondheim’s classic. The production team deserve huge praise for their efforts that have gone into the design and creation. Before the show even starts, there is an impressive set which cleverly depicts Fleet Street during that era. With multiple levels, entrances and a terrific full-functioning barber’s chair, credit must be award to set designer Lawrence Wright. Excellent costumes, created by Christine English, truly reflected the time period of the production. At the front of the stage, musical director Ian Partidge took control of the polished nine-piece orchestra which delivered justice to Sondheim’s complex and experimental score.
Although this was not the strongest set of principals I have ever witnessed, two characters clearly eclipsed others. Leading lady Kerry Butcher delivered a superb, effortless portrayal as Mrs Lovett and performed Sondheim’s explosive score with ease, while Nancy Longland was a perfect Johanna with her stunning vocals and delicate approach to the role. Both are stars in the making. The impressive ensemble provided a strong and polished support to the rest of the cast. The notable weakness of this production was the diction and vocal tuning, which was lost throughout by a number of characters. Partly, this is due to the sound set-up at the Plaza, but for a production of this scale and of such prestige, I would hope that this would have been ironed out before playing to an audience.
RAODS certainly are a valuable group in the community and I am already looking forward to their next production. Performances of Sweeney Todd run until 21 October at 7.30.