Walsall Operatic Society
A production of professional standard that would not be out of place on any West End stage
Stephen Sondheim’s Tony and Olivier award winning musical thriller is set in 19th century London and comes to life in Wolverhampton this week.
Former barber, Benjamin Barker, has returned to his apartment above a pie shop in Fleet Street with his new identity of Sweeney Todd, having previously been banished from England by crooked Judge Turpin and his servant Beadle Bamford. The Judge’s intention had been to pursue Todd’s wife, Lucy, who later poisoned herself leaving their young daughter, Johanna, in his care .
Todd (Richard Poynton) meets the lively Mrs Nellie Lovett (Steph Coleman), the proprietor of a pie shop in Fleet Street. Mrs Lovett laments about the scarcity of meat, describing her crusty offerings as the worst pies in London. She soon discovers Todd’s true identity and, enamoured, confides in him, revealing the fate of his wife and daughter. Todd swears revenge and Lovett presents him with his old collection of glisteningly sharp, silver razors. Todd is persuaded to take up his old profession only this time with the intention of cutting more than beards. Lovett and Todd embark on a new business venture - the killing of all future customers, which in turn conveniently boosts meat pie sales as Mrs Lovett takes to the kitchen with her tasty, new pie filling as Todd plans a way to finish the Judge and rescue his daughter.
For a so-called amateur production this really is a triumph. Directed by Tim Jones it is a production of professional standard that would not be out of place on any West End stage. With a smoggy and powerful two-tiered set, beautifully sung and richly costumed throughout, it is an absolute joy to witness. Every minute of direction and choreography is carefully considered to ensure that quality of both performance and showmanship remains at the top of its peak throughout. Sondheim’s musicals are wordy, complex, and fulfilling, to be tackled by only the most competent of companies and Walsall Operatic have produced the goods to perfection. Well played and musically directed, with seamless scene changes, the shortest of humanly-possible blackouts (given the array of set pieces), the show is set to a pace that ensures surprise after surprise and delight after delight.
Richard Poynton as Sweeney Todd commands and appropriately darkens the stage with his creepy and powerful psychopathic personality and singing. In contrast, Steph Coleman, as the perfectly bubbly and wicked Mrs Lovett, livens the stage with her music hall style portrayal and exceptional vocal. Craig Smith as Adolfo Pirelli, brilliantly plays the persona of the flashy Italian barber with just the right amount of flamboyance and later turn of character. Meg Hardy as Johanna and Chris Room as Anthony pour out their hearts with passion and fear, treating us to some excellent singing, and Neo Hughes lights up the stage with his portrayal of young simpleton Tobias Ragg, playing the character with conviction and humour, warming the audience with his initial vulnerability then suspicion as the story unfolds. Katy Ball plays the Beggar Woman brilliantly, with exuberant expression and madness, and the arrogant Judge Turpin, played perfectly horribly by Simon Docherty is the man we love to hate, who we long to see in the meat grinder as we bizarrely take sides with Sweeney. Judge Turpin’s loathsome side-kick Beadle Bamford, played assuredly by Nick Hardy, happily accepts the offer of a free shave, only to have his screams joyfully accompanied by Mrs Lovett on her harmonium, all resulting in a seemingly effortless, wonderfully crazy, musical production in a magnificent theatre, supported by a strong ensemble and a competent technical team.
As stated by Richard Poynton, this is indeed a "razor sharp production". Suitable for everyone and well worth a ticket. Runs to 17 March.
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