After the rape of his wife, his incarceration abroad for many years, never seeing his daughter Johanna and his tragic spouse eventually going mad, it’s no wonder Sweeney Todd takes to slicing throats open with his barbour’s blades. The gruesome tale of Fleet Street’s most infamous resident is devilishly dark.
Sweeney, played by Michael Ball, returns to London a broken man on a mission of revenge. He meets down-at-heel pie lady Mrs Lovett (Imelda Staunton) and together they set up his murderous barbourshop.
As the body count rises, Mrs Lovett has the idea to use the grisly corpses for pasty-covered sustenance. Despite Mrs Lovett’s cannibalistic ways, the audience feels sorry for the lovesick old fool thanks to Staunton’s hilarious performance.
Her vocal is ear-drum-splittingly endearing, and as she bangs on about her rubbish pies, the terribleness of wasting good food, and later her infatuation of scary Sweeney, it’s impossible not to love her.
Sweeney himself is mighty cold and composed. The usually cheery Ball is unrecognisable with dark circles under his eyes and an evil beard. The killing spree is conducted with great efficiency – there’s even a trap door to dispose of the poor shaven oafs.
First for the chop is northern numpty Jason Manford. His funnyman interpretation of operatic Italian barbour Pirelli is annoyingly reminiscent of the guy in the GoCompare adverts. But his fans won’t be disappointed. He belts out his songs with gusto and overall his stage debut is a barrel of laughs. Once Sweeney puts an end to Pirelli’s ridiculousness, he’s hungry for more. As is the neighbourhood; Mrs Lovett’s ‘secret recipe’ meat pies sell like hot cakes.
Sweeney’s main focus is the evil Judge Turpin and his bad buddy Beadle Bamford. As he plots his revenge, he inadvertently sets up a ‘respectable business’ as well as a weirdly comfortable home life with Mrs Lovett.
While all this is going on, Sweeney’s sailor friend and eternal optimist Anthony is pursuing a beautiful birdlike lady who is trapped in a posh house nearby. In true musical theatre style he declares his undying love immediately and offers to marry her and save her from her privileged cage.
The gorgeous girl is Johanna, and as this tale twists and turns the audience is treated to some of Stephen Sondheim’s most beloved music and lyrics.
The score is sometimes as frantic and jarring as the murderous story behind it, and performers are certainly put through their paces. But everyone is magical and by the time the story winds up like a Greek tragedy, their standing ovation is well deserved.
Sweeney Todd is showing until September 22 at:
Jason Manford will be in the show until July 27.