Kirese Narinesingh reviews Sondheim’s gruesome musical Sweeney Todd, as performed by UCL Musical Theatre Society and Stage Crew Society.
A tortured, brooding barber who slits his clients’ throats and a lustful baker, who sells meat-pies from the human remains – such a combination of comically eccentric and dramatic gore would seem almost over the top. This production, given life by the UCL Musical Theatre and Stage Crew, leaves us with no doubt that the musical is, in fact, built on this self-same melodrama, that never ceases to engross us in its quasi-surrealistic rendering of a chaotic “dog-eat-dog world” of London (in which people actually do consume each other).
The world of the musical is unabashedly theatrical, relishing in the horrific, darkly comedic spectacle. The execution of the drama was remarkably mesmerising: the costuming, production design and lighting were impressive in overriding the somewhat awkward transitions between scenes and supplementing the musical numbers, which were brilliantly performed by the cast.
The setting of the musical was itself a nod to its first production in 1979, a bold artistic choice, but undoubtedly the right one. Social turmoil embodied in the musical finds its resonance in the melodramatic shifts in tone, combined with the powerfully evocative music and lighting that is as ever-shifting and tumultuous as the plot itself.
Although the first half of the musical is admittedly slow, relying heavily on comedic effect to establish character and setting, it did simultaneously provide much of the entertainment value through the romantic overtones of touching musical numbers that evoke a residing dramatic atmosphere. However, the true dramatic power of the production is not fully realised until the latter half, though the climactic end seemed abrupt and almost aloof in execution.
Perhaps the musical’s greatest asset lies in the powerhouse performances by the cast, especially Sephora Parish as Mrs. Lovett, whose spectacle of a performance nearly overshadowed that of the darkly sinister lead, played by Adam Haddour. But nearly is the operative word – on the contrary, the contrast between their characters perhaps provided much of the entertainment value of the musical; their dynamic was the crux of the show, embodying the successful balance of the tonal variety. As for the rest of the cast, their performances were refreshingly vibrant, exuding enthusiasm in their roles, but they were underutilised.
I left the theatre with the impression that every member involved in the making of Sweeney Todd was unreservedly dedicated to perfecting every moment of the musical. Each scene appeared invested with this zeal and enthusiasm that is uncontainable, being ultimately transferred to us, the audience, who cannot help but admire the sheer assiduity and creativity of the production.