The murderous rise and fall of Fleet Street’s demon barber is staged almost as a rollicking farce, with some potent individual performances. Blood spurts from severed jugulars, dead bodies thud down from the flies, grinders churn out evil-looking pie fillings. You can’t say that Northern Ireland Opera’s new production of Stephen Sondheim’s mischievously macabre melodrama stints on the actualité.
Walter Sutcliffe stages the murderous rise and fall of Fleet Street’s demon barber almost as a rollicking farce. Dorota Karolczak’s set may look like an extension of the Lyric auditorium’s wood panelling (presumably to draw us spectators into feeling more “complicit” in Sweeney’s misdeeds), but as the show proceeds it discloses more and more sliding panels that continually open and close. I’m amazed the cast can remember where to pop out from next.
A nine-piece band delivers Sondheim’s dark, dissonant score admirably under Sinead Hayes’s direction. And fans of audience participation, and indeed cannibalism, will love the chance to sample Mrs Lovett’s pies. – The Times
Steven Page cuts an imposing figure as the demon barber, his impassive exterior barely hinting at the anger within. Julie Mullins as his partner in crime, Mrs Lovett – he kills ‘em, she cooks ‘em – is a comic counterpart to Todd’s dour menace, just as Richard Croxford’s Beadle offers light relief from Mark O’Regan’s corrupt Judge Turpin. A strong cast includes moving performances from John Porter as Anthony Hope and Jack Wolfe as young Tobias.
Director Walter Sutcliffe occasionally casts a contemporary eye across this Victorian melodrama through his suited and booted chorus and unexpected use of colour. Walls are washed in red as blood is spilled, and shimmer with blue as Mrs Lovett dreams of a future by the sea. This meeting of past and present serves to underscore our undying fascination with blood and gore. – The Stage
The principals, Steven Page as Todd with Patrick Stewart diction and a fine baritone and Julie Mullins as Mrs Lovett are superb. Mullins has a touch of the mid-career Millicent Martin, effortlessly combining Cockney charm with wickedness.
The thrust of Sweeney Todd’s story gripped us. For the cruelty of men is as wondrous as Peru, as the demon barber has it. – The Irish News
Steven Page’s rich baritone voice expresses the emotion the frustration of the troubled man. Julie Mullins gives Mrs Lovett a bawdy music hall feel and is rewarded with audience laughs from early on in the show. Together they make a great couple until the bending of the truth behind her moral pragmatism pushes an already distraught Todd over the edge.
Highlights in this production include the shave-off between Todd and the flamboyant leather cat-suited Italian extortionist Alolfo Pirelli (Matthew Cavan), the duets between Todd’s daughter and her nautical lover (John Porter), and the talented, emotionally-flawless ‘common man’ Tobias Ragg (Jack Wolfe) who gets caught up in the sordid tale.
The cutthroat effects are stylish and comically gruesome to avoid being too naturalistic until the final wounding of the haunted protagonist. Director Walter Sutcliffe has created a consistently stylish show that relates its story with heaps of operatic pizzazz but none of the genre’s supposed stuffiness. – Alan in Belfast
Sweeney Todd runs until 23 February. Find out more here.