Stephen Sondheim's & Hugh Wheeler's Sweeney Todd is considered by many his tour de force of Musical Theatre, with a complex score and a meaty plot to sink your teeth into, Studley Operatic Society had certainly took on a huge challenge. Resetting the musical within 1930's London was certainly a brave move, for a musical set in the midst of the Industrial Revolution, but the change of scene, setting it within the great depression, with its crumbling buildings and bright red barber chairs shed a new light onto the piece.
Directors Kevin & Alison Hirons had certainly cast a superb line up of principles, with not a weak link in sight, with soaring vocals and steady characterisation, they held the show well throughout. Paul Mitchell played a demanding Sweeney Todd, his stage presence and vocals were strong throughout, a perfect leading man for the production. Lou Watton played Todd's meat grinding sidekick Mrs Lovett to a tee, her madcap comedy timing yet stumbling awkwardness hit just the right notes. The duo could really delve further into the mischievous chemistry between the two characters, the scheming malice of the two leads is always joyous within the show, and it would be lovely to see even more of that!
Special mention must go to Julian Bissell, who played the most unsettling Judge Turpin that this reviewer has ever seen, his stunning deep vocal technique truly made my skin crawl, and the staging of Mea Culpa was utterly disturbing. A delight of darkness.
With a score as complex as Sweeney Todd, it is always a big challenge for an amateur company, but the scale and scares of the piece do rely on the ensemble's ballads throughout the production. The SOS ensemble can afford to give these moments even more attack, but this company should be commended for their tackling of such a difficult and complex score - one that most amateur groups shy away from.
They have successfully set a unique atmosphere with a gargantuan set, breaking the confines of the Redditch Palace Theatres tight proscenium arch. There were some stumbled scene changes, but these can be forgiven for the ambition of the piece, you felt immersed in the world with fantastic costumes, wigs and scenery to match.
Sweeney Todd is a fantastic 3 hours of pure Sondheim and Wheeler brilliance, and is a rare treat to find on the amateur theatre scene, get down to the Redditch Palace Theatre while you can, to see some fantastic, ambitious dark comedy from Studley Operatic Society.
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