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Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

Book by Hugh Wheeler

West Yorkshire Playhouse

Royal Exchange Theatre, 5 November 2013

David Birrell as Sweeney and Todd Gillian Bevan as Mrs Lovett. Photo - Jonathan Keenan.

David Birrell as Sweeney and Todd Gillian Bevan as Mrs Lovett. Photo – Jonathan Keenan.

This is a gloriously atmospheric production of Sondheim’s great musical.

London is painted in lurid colours, in all its gaudy, Gothic splendor.   David Birrell takes the title role and he’s a genuinely unnerving presence – as unnerving as Sondheim’s jaunty/dissonant music.  He’s a man permanently on edge, with a serious grudge against the world.  Someone you’d cross the road to avoid, just in case.

The black comedy is there in abundance, in the songs and the story itself, but there’s an undercurrent of tragedy as well.  Jacobean tragedy: it has that stench about it.  Something visceral and unpleasant is about to happen.

We all wage a war between our past and our humanity, and if over half the time our humanity wins out, we’re usually OK.  When Sweeney returns to London, that war has been lost long ago.  Redemption is not an existential possibility.  He’s a man bent on revenge – and he gets it.

Sweeney Todd is highly recommended.  It is at the Royal Exchange Theatre until 30 November, further details can be found here.

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