Review - Sweeney Todd, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Colchester Mercury until November 12

Sophie-Louise Dann as Mrs Lovett in the new Colchester Mercury Theatre production of Sweeney Todd

Sophie-Louise Dann as Mrs Lovett in the new Colchester Mercury Theatre production of Sweeney Todd - Credit: Archant

This is one helluver show, writes David Henshall. Mercury audiences are not much given to standing ovations but this got a richly deserved one.

Simon Shorten as Senior Pirelli and Hugh Maynard as Sweeney Todd in the new Colchester Mercury Thea

Simon Shorten as Senior Pirelli and Hugh Maynard as Sweeney Todd in the new Colchester Mercury Theatre production - Credit: Archant

For those who, like me, thought the Johnny Depp movie lacked a certain something, this production has it in spades – great voices that send Sondheim’s score soaring round the rafters.

The musical dips it’s toes firmly into opera and is the composer’s love letter to London, chock full of haunting melodies that are constantly tumbling over or drifting into one another to help keep the action flowing. The story sticks tightly to it’s original Demon Barber of Fleet Street melodramatic roots and is also hilariously funny at times.

This is the tale of a man who returns to London after 15 years as a falsely-accused prisoner in Australia and learns that the official who set him up and had him transported, Judge Turpin, has violated his wife, caused her to commit suicide and taken Todd’s pretty daughter as his ward. Turpin now plans to marry her and Sweeney is out for blood.

Everything in this show depends on the choice of Sweeney Todd and his murder-happy pie-making mate, Mrs Lovett, and director Daniel Buckroyd has picked a couple of crackers.

Ryan Heenan as Tobias Ragg in the new Colchester Mercury Theatre production of Sweeney Todd

Ryan Heenan as Tobias Ragg in the new Colchester Mercury Theatre production of Sweeney Todd - Credit: Archant


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From his very first perfectly-pitched note, Hugh Maynard is completely in charge of this man insanely in search of revenge and Sophie-Louise Dann is wonderfully funny as the the woman who talks him into supplying human fillings with his silver cut-throat razors.

They have a great partnership and a comic duet, A Little Priest, in which they discuss the various flavours the pies might contain: actors, vicars, perhaps an admiral or a general (and what about his privates?). Sweeney also sings about his special friends, his razors, and has a deathly but beautiful twosome with Turpin called Pretty Women,

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Ryan Heenan is Toby Ragg, the lad who is taken under Mrs Lovett’s motherly wing and he sings a great Not If I’m Around. Jack Wilcox as Sweeney’s sailor friend and Christina Bennington as the barber’s daughter are in delightful voice as the young lovers.

David Durham’s Turpin, Julian Hoult’s Beadle Bamford, Kara Lane’s Beggar Woman and Simon Shorten’s Signor Pirelli are more strong singers but this is very much an ensemble and chorus piece that works perfectly on every level.

Sophie-Louise Dann as Mrs Lovett in the new Colchester Mercury Theatre production of Sweeney Todd

Sophie-Louise Dann as Mrs Lovett in the new Colchester Mercury Theatre production of Sweeney Todd - Credit: Archant

Sara Perks’ splendid dark and menacing Dickensian set operates on a revolve, offering a series of constantly changing, busily peopled scenes - not least the shining chair that shoots unsuspecting gore-dripping souls to Mrs Lovett’s grinder and glowing furness in the cellar.

The story rattles along like a mail coach and four in a hugely entertaining night of theatre.

David Henshall

Daniel Buckroyd, artistic director of Colchester Mercury, directing rehearsals for Sweeney Todd

Daniel Buckroyd, artistic director of Colchester Mercury, directing rehearsals for Sweeney Todd - Credit: Archant

Hugh Maynard as Sweeney Todd in the new Colchester Mercury Theatre production

Hugh Maynard as Sweeney Todd in the new Colchester Mercury Theatre production - Credit: Archant

The cast of the new Colchester Mercury Theatre production of Sweeney Todd

The cast of the new Colchester Mercury Theatre production of Sweeney Todd - Credit: Archant

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