My first encounter with Sweeney Todd was the Tim Burton film starring Johnny Depp. This unconventional tale, which explores the themes of love, revenge and class, intrigued me. In my honest opinion, I thought this adaption of the tale of the demon barber of Fleet Street would be hard to surpass, however, a trip to the Lyric Theatre, Belfast, soon proved me wrong.
Visiting on opening night with my culture buddy Mark, the crowd were clearly eager to see how NI Opera and the Lyric Theatre would bring such a gruesome story to life on stage. With a blood smeared set (created by Dorota Karolczak), macabre make up and an orchestra setting the tone with spine tingling aplomb, it would seem the answer would be by embracing every last bit of the the dark world of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd.
The central cast of this retelling could not be faulted. The musical’s namesake is played by English Baritone Stephen Page, who was last seen treading the boards at the Lyric in The Threepenny Opera – also a NI Opera/Lyric collaboration. Page is an inspired choice for Sweeney Todd; with a strong, profound and authoritative voice, both in the speaking and singing aspects of the role, not to mention a mesmerising stage presence, he wholly commands the audience’s attention and effortlessly transports them to Victorian London. Former Neighbours star Julie Mullins is also exquisite in the role of Mrs Lovett providing a finely nuanced performance, at times emotional, at others comedic, but always captivating.
Under the guidance of NI Opera theatre director Walter Sutcliffe, this reincarnation of Sweeney Todd casts a question mark over the morality of our protagonist: is he a monster or simply a man irreparably damaged by his past? One thing is for sure though, his unrelenting quest for revenge, which leads to his barber’s chair becoming something of an abattoir, creates one of the most memorable and darkly comedic moments of the play. After one particular ‘close shave’ results in a dead body being dumped by Todd from the upper level of the staging, before landing with a thunk and being unceremoniously dragged offstage by Mrs Lovett, it was hard not to laugh – although somewhat in shock – at this clever staging.
As one of best known pieces from Stephen Sondheim’s incredible canon of work, the score of Sweeney Todd is multi-faceted, transforming from dark and bleak to hopeful and then back again. This tale, which can only be called a tragedy of epic proportions, is powerful and engaging and with members of the cast frequently infiltrating the audience, the impact reached a whole new level. If you are a fan of this tale or have yet to experience it, I thoroughly recommend a trip to the Lyric Theatre where this haunting musical will linger with you long after the final curtain call.
Sweeney Todd runs at Lyric Theatre 2 – 23 February, Tues – Sat: 7.45pm, Sun Matinee: 2.30pm. Ticket prices £15.00- £24.50. For further details and booking visit www.lyrictheatre.co.uk