Beware not the barber

Sweeney Todd (New Farm Nash Theatre)

Merthyr Road Uniting Church, The Brunswick Room

July 11 – August 1

The tale of Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and his partner in crime, Mrs Lovett has be retold many times in plays, musicals and film adaptations. Beyond Stephen Sondheim’s dark and thrilling musical and Tim Burton’s sinister slasher movie, the gruesome Barber first appeared as the main protagonist of the Victorian penny dreadful The String of Pearls (1846–47). And it is this original version that forms the basis of Nash Theatre’s take on the story. The result is a dark but also comic show that offers much enjoyment to its audience.

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The narrative is one of its titular barber who enacts his general and particular revenge by slitting the throats of his clients, who are then turned into meat pies by his associate, local baker, Mrs. Lovett. Taking it on represents a daring theatrical project. The show’s length, its multiple characters, dialectic discourse and musical score make it an ambitious choice and although there are times where it perhaps gets the better of the ensemble as it becomes difficult to deconstruct meaning from some lines, overall, they do a decent job. And the inclusion of (deliberately) farcical scenes such from the increasingly drunken Doctor Lupin (Christopher Lynagh) add some lovely light relief.

As Todd’s amoral accomplice Mrs Lovett, Alison Pattinson is energetic in delivery of dialogue and song alike. Jackson Howe, is also particularly effective in his role as Todd’s apprentice, the young Tobias Ragg, capturing the nuances of accent within his speech and showcasing memorable musical prowess from the moment he begins to sing of ‘sailing away’. And his duet and tap number with sister Tilly Ragg (Chiara Axnick) is a another wonderful highlight.  However, it is Dan Lane as Sweeney Todd who controls the space with his powerful interpretation of the vengeful villain. Both malicious and menacing in intent to make his razors instruments of retaliation and almost childlike in his glee, he commands the stage in creation of a character that is more angry than broody, yet still a joy to watch. Without a chorus, he must sing of himself in ‘The Ballad of Sweeney Todd’, yet it works entirely. Indeed, the musical numbers all soar, thanks to the talent of pianist Stuart Crisp.

This is a show appropriately promoted as a melodrama with music. Nash Theatre has embraced the challenge that the big ideas and big vision of this combination provides, with a clever balance between the horrific and the comic. And the result is a feast for all those who attend the tale.

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