The story of Sweeney Todd’s cut-throat vengeance has left a curdling, crimson trail for over 150 years. Now this malevolent tale comes lurching back to life in the masterly musical by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler. Stuffed to the gizzard with mesmerising music and crow-black comedy, this is anarchic theatre at its thrilling best. Sit down, tuck in and enjoy the revolutionary taste of a tale with a blood red heart.
Directed by Nick Bagnall.
★★★★ The Guardian, Michael Billington:
'Nick Bagnall’s production – with just nine actors and four musicians – ensures that Bond’s intention to give the melodrama a political edge is suitably honoured.
The main surprise is the realisation that it is the pie shop’s Mrs Lovett who drives the action forward and who is as much the focus as Sweeney, but that is partly because of an outstanding performance by Kacey Ainsworth. Constantly raising an abusive finger to an unseen rival, she reminds us that Mrs Lovett is first of all an aggressive, hard-headed businesswoman. But Ainsworth captures perfectly the character’s willing complicity in murder for both profit and pleasure. The highlight of the evening is her rendering of By the Sea, in which Ainsworth rapturously evokes all the imagined joys of the seaside, from lazy sun-lounging to limitless sex.
[Liam] Tobin conveys Sweeney’s vengeful ferocity and hint of monomania beneath a deceptively ordinary surface [...] . There is good support from Paul Duckworth as a smoothly rapacious Judge Turpin, Mark Rice-Oxley as a bent beadle who looks as if he might have stepped out of Line of Duty, and Dean Nolan as a Pirelli who is both bully and flamboyant showman.
Sondheim always classifies the work as a “musical thriller”. It is that but, as this production reminds us, it is also a savagely political piece about the high price society pays for perpetuating injustice and inequality.'
★★★★ The Times, Sam Marlowe:
'The demon barber of Fleet Street roars, teeth bared and razor ready, out of a very modern hell in this pulsing, full-blooded reworking of Stephen Sondheim’s 1979 musical tragedy. Nick Bagnall’s in-the-round production strips the show of its Victoriana and some of its Grand Guignol excess, presenting us with a vision of cruelty, desperation and inequality that we could almost be watching, appalled and fascinated, in a grisly true-crime documentary.
Performed by just nine actors and a four-strong band, it’s gutsy, immediate and at times unruly. The staging isn’t always slick; the singing is imperfect. Yet it has a punkish rage and roughness, ripping fresh moments of horror and pain from the awful tale (based on a 1969 play by Christopher Bond) and from Sondheim’s magnificent score. For all its jagged edges, this production gleams.
Kacey Ainsworth is a wiry, tattooed, bottle-blonde Mrs Lovett, her voice a nicotine rasp. Liam Tobin’s Sweeney is a walking wound, festering with pain and fury. They’re a lethal combination, two co-dependent, damaged souls certain to destroy each other. On the other side of the class divide is Paul Duckworth’s silkily toxic Judge Turpin, who raped Sweeney’s wife and had the barber deported; his henchman Beadle Bamford (Mark Rice-Oxley) is reimagined as a creepy, corrupt Met police officer.
Keziah Joseph as Johanna, Sweeney’s long-lost daughter and the object of Judge Turpin’s perverted lust, and Shiv Rabheru, heartbreaking as Mrs Lovett’s trusting apprentice Tobias, are unmistakably still children here, poignantly vulnerable and dressed in school uniform. The murders are stylised, bloodshed suggested by floods of scarlet lighting; gore is poured, viscous and lumpy, from steel buckets. [...] Emma Dears’s strongly sung, mysterious Beggar Woman is a standout. [...] there’s plenty to chew on in a production full of grit and gristle.'
★★★★ Liverpool Echo:
'Liverpool’s own Liam Tobin moves between heartbroken husband and murderous avenger, bringing a huge depth of emotion to the lead role. EastEnders’ Kacey Ainsworth has bags of energy in her take on Mrs Lovett, in a performance that builds on rather than apes her famous predecessors. There are some stand-out voices among the cast - Emma Dears lifting the harmonies in the role of the Beggar Woman and Keziah Joseph’s Johanna bringing a real intensity to her opening song Green Finch and Linnet Bird.
Excellent casting has transformed what are essentially bit parts into some of most watchable characters in the show. Shiv Rabheru as Toby particularly stands out with a bouncy, exhilarating entrance that makes the audience sit up and pay intention.'