Sweeney Feb 22 NODA
26th February 2022
By Stephen Sondheim
Zenith Youth Theatre Company
Performance date: 24th February 2022
Reviewed by Dee Way, District 14 Representative, Southwest Region
Thank you for your kind invitation to report on your recent production of “Sweeney Todd”. This is a dark story of injustice, murder and revenge that exposes the underside of life in London in the late 1800s. The script paints a vivid picture of poverty, mental illness, people surviving by their wits and the vast contrast to the power of the wealthy. The effect of the prevailing darkness following the eerie opening well reflected the mood of the piece, with very little relief apart from Nellie Lovett and her antics. However, the power of the production here was built by the excellent performances by the young cast members, the innovative set, the live, often discordant music and the tricky and convoluted songs. Indeed, music played such a large part on the production that is could have fittingly been called an opera.
The set was mostly dark, with curtaining at the back that gave an eerie ripple effect during the staging, with shades of grey at times as variation. Hence the railings along the top of the upper level stood out as fixed entities, with the side stages equally firm and solid, although with more dark curtaining. This was most effective in creating an atmosphere of uncertainty and threat. The props and characters that were then added to the set stood out well as displaying colour and a sense of reality. This was particularly marked during the opening, when members of the cast with props stood in a grid formation on the stage with shading lighting – a truly eerie spectacle from the start!
The barber’s chair was amazing! It was good to start off with a wooden chair and only progress to the infamous barber’s chair once Sweeny was established in London. The contrast worked well and gave a good impression of time having passed. The bloody razor and the body chute only added to the gruesome spectacle – and coping when the chair had a hitch underlined the level of teamwork present within the company.
The costumes were very good, with excellent attention to detail in boots and shoes. The co-ordination of muted colours was most effective for the chorus, while the suits and dresses of the main characters immediately informed the audience as to their station in life. The lighting and sound were very well done, with excellent cuing on both. The music was very well played with very good dynamics, a full range of volume and very well controlled timing. The singing throughout the show was very good, although the clarity in the quartet was not quite so good. The words of the songs – important as they formed the script - were well enunciated and clear, so that the twists in the story were clear. There was also some very clear miming at times, between Mrs Lovett and other characters.
The choreography was very innovative, especially in the pie shop scene with benches. Here is where a young cast really helps! The movements were just right as if they were adapted from the actual actions that people would make while seated or moving on a bench. The crash of the mugs was beautifully timed!
As to the cast, there was a very good contrast between Anthony and Sweeney in the opening scenes: one being open and spritely, the other static, lowering and foreboding. The contrast with Mrs Lovett also worked very well, with her vibrancy and wonderful accent. Johanna was nicely played as the gentle daughter of Sweeney Todd, a complete contrast to the other London folk, while there was a real rapport between her and Antony. The Beadle was very well played with good body language and voice, while Judge Turpin was a very upright man in appearance, with the air of a gentleman. Tobias was portrayed as a rather lost character, which was totally fitting for the part.
It was extremely hard to believe that Sweeney Todd himself was played by someone of 15. This was a mature performance with enough movement and character but nothing too exaggerated. In fact, the whole production was extremely effective as a piece of theatre and would have been worthy of a professional theatre company, in my view. The staging, acting, singing, costumes and music all combined to make this a truly exceptional production. Well done to everyone!