Review: Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, at Colchester Mercury until February 5

Sweeney Todd tells us in song at once that when he polishes ‘em off they go to their maker impeccably shaved – and impeccable is the word for this show. It grabs you by the throat right at the start, if you’ll pardon the pun, and never lets you go.

Colchester Operatic have taken hold of this difficult semi-operatic piece with the ease of a professional company and produced as accomplished an amateur musical as I’ve seen in a long time.

It’s a score that encompasses delightful melodies and melodrama, tongue-twisting, quick-fire lyrics and slices of wonderful humour – and all the principals and the large chorus hit every note perfectly on cue right from the start.

The production is a triumph for musical director Neil Somerville who seizes our imaginations with clever regularity. He opens with deep, discordant organ chords which fill us with foreboding as we view the brilliantly seedy 19th Century London set and his powerful orchestra sweeps us along into the action.

And the cast is very well chosen, with a particularly good Sweeney Todd and Mrs Lovett. When Mark Fincham’s white-faced, crazed-eyed Sweeney sings and caresses his ‘friends’, his long-lost cut-throat razors, we know he means business and each victim is dispatched in a halo of blood-red light into the oven where Nellie Lovett turns them into the pies that London can’t get enough of.

Melanie Greaney’s Nellie is a priceless concoction of cunning wickedness and good humour. Her song, A Little Priest, in which she describes the different fillings in her hot-sellers – including real shepherd in the shepherd’s pie – is a delicious bit of delivery and very funny.

As the story of Todd’s revenge on the evil Judge Turpin, who stole the barber’s lovely wife and child and sent him to Botany Bay on a trumped-up charge, unfolds, there’s some very nice singing from Shane King as Anthony (Kiss Me), David King as Judge Turpin (Pretty Women), Phil Young as Tobias (Not While I’m Around), Ben Adams as Beadle Bamford (Sweet Polly Plunket), Hannah Shayle-Kennedy as Joanna and Caroline Fritz as the beggar woman.

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David Henshall.