SWEENEY TODD: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Maidment Theatre, Auckland

03/06/2010 - 26/06/2010

Production Details

Peach Theatre Company (The History Boys) brings Stephen Sondheim’s iconic musical thriller, Sweeney Todd, to the stage in an electrifying production featuring a cast of 20, and a live orchestra.

Sweeney Todd is a thrilling tale of vengeance and true love, featuring some of the finest music ever written for the theatre. Set in Victorian London it tells the infamous story of Sweeney Todd, the demon barber of Fleet Street, who forms an enterprising business relationship with Mrs Lovett, the proprietor of the downstairs pie-shop.

Sondheim’s most thunderously exciting score underpins a production of spine-tingling wit, humour and tenderness, has been acclaimed by critics and audiences alike.

Directed by Jesse Peach, this razor-sharp production stars international musical theatre sensation Ross Girven, multi-award-winning Christchurch actress Lynda Milligan, Auckland favourites Sophia Hawthorne, Michael Hurst and Paul Barrett, and Australia’s Tyran Parke.

Don’t miss this electrifying production of Sondheim’s glorious masterpiece, staged to mark the composer’s 80th year.

Musical theatre at its very best.

Thursday June 3 – Saturday, June 26, 2010 at 8:00am
Maidment Theatre Auckland

Opening night is Saturday 5th June… come party with us! 

SWEENEY TODD – Ross Girven
MRS LOVETT – Lynda Milligan
JUDGE TURPIN – Michael Hurst
BEADLE – Paul Barrett
JOANNA – Jessie Cassin
ANTHONY – Nic Kyle
TOBIAS – Tyran Parke
PIRELLI – Michael Lee Porter

THE ENSEMBLE: Ray Columbus, Antonia Prebble, David Aston, Cameron Douglas, Jane Horder, Greg Padoa, Maria Satterfield, Tizane McEvoy, Julian Wilson, Catherine Reaburn, Kyle Chuen.

Sharp casting gives edge to demon barber’s tale

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 09th Jun 2010

Stephen Sondheim’s musical version of Sweeney Todd is a brilliant, bloodthirsty thriller that has the emotional intensity and moral discernment of a Greek tragedy.

The show opens by building sympathy for the brutally victimised Sweeney Todd, compelling the audience to identify with his coolly planned lust for revenge. But as the demon barber wreaks vengeance on a hideously corrupt world any vicarious pleasure in the carnage quickly dissolves into a profound awareness of the futile self-destructive nature of his quest. [More]
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Vividly interpreted commentary on the grimness of life in Victorian London

Review by Sian Robertson 06th Jun 2010

My expectations of Peach Theatre Company’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s acclaimed musical thriller were based on having seen the Tim Burton film, which I didn’t like. What it lacked that this production has, is a Sweeney Todd you can sympathise with. 

Ross Girven’s Sweeney is indeed dark, poisoned by his unflinching desire for vengeance, but still a man whose pain is evident. The rest of the characters are brilliantly cast, too.

A live nine-piece orchestra, accompanied by Nik Janiurek’s atmospheric lighting, sets the mood and a chorus of cheerless Victorian Londoners tell the background to Sweeney’s tale in dramatic, funereal song as Sweeney Todd steps back onto London soil with the young sailor who rescued him.

Sweeney Todd returns to London after being wrongfully convicted and sent to a penal colony for fifteen years, only to find that his wife and daughter aren’t waiting at home for him as he’d imagined. He returns to his abandoned Barber Shop on Fleet Street and is encouraged by Mrs Lovett, who runs the dreadful pie shop downstairs, to return to work. They form a mutually beneficial partnership as Sweeney Todd plots his revenge on those who took his family from him and the pragmatic Mrs Lovett finds ingenious ways to make ends meet.

For those who don’t know the story, I won’t ruin the suspense by revealing any more details here. It’s a gruesome tale of revenge, thwarted love and desperate measures in desperate times.

Under the skilful direction of Jesse Peach, stand-out performances are delivered by Ross Girven as Sweeney Todd, Lynda Milligan as Mrs Lovett and Tyran Parke who plays the boy Toby, Mrs Lovett’s assistant. His angelic singing in authentic cockney accent gives his character a welcome Dickensian feel. Abi Taylor’s macabre make-up is spot-on (not overdone), especially in Sweeney’s tormented visage.

The set design by Emily O’Hara is a bit ‘interpretive’ for my liking, particularly the background of ‘randomly’ cross-hatched boards, which fails to really allude to anything, least of all Victorian architecture. However it comes into its own in the final scenes of mayhem at Bedlam, bloodily lit to suggest the ‘city on fire’.

The set design also makes practical use of the space; the stage has been raised to house the orchestra pit, as well as trapdoors and chutes for disposing of unfortunate customers, hiding places and the pop-up barber’s chair, which allow for some luridly funny scenes. The centrepiece is a large, versatile set piece with different sides for the shop front and interior scenes, wheeled on and off in an elegantly choreographed ‘dance’.

Whatever authenticity is lacking in the set is made up for by Lynn Cottingham’s carefully considered, understated costumes.

Performers have obviously been selected for their singing talents as much as their acting abilities and the singing is of a consistently high standard. In my experience of stage musicals, there are usually one or two performers who, however nicely they sing, are difficult to hear. This is not the case here, thanks to in part to musical director Anthony Young, who has ensured the performers beautiful voices are heard with clarity as well as passion. The ensemble musical numbers are stunning and Sondheim’s clever and witty lyrical layers are excellently executed.

Nic Kyle and Jessie Cassin, who play the young lovers, are a delight; Michael Hurst plays Judge Turpin with unrivalled dispicableness; and the main characters are excellently supported by the rest of the cast.

Sophia Hawthorne’s bawdy, shameless Beggar Woman is a treat too. She is the crazed voice of reason, who detects the stench of treachery and wanders around muttering that something is terribly wrong, but no one pays her any attention. She and the patients of Bedlam sing of the ‘City on Fire’; the rot has set in and only these outcasts will point to the decay behind the façade. But still no one’s listening.

On one level the play is an escapist bit of bloodthirsty gore (the story started its life as a ‘penny dreadful’ serial in the mid 1800s) and on another it is a tragic commentary on the grimness of life in Victorian London, with its abuses of power, and the hopelessness of the downtrodden lower classes to rise above it. Sondheim’s fantastic score and Peach Theatre Company’s vivid interpretation – directed by Jesse Peach – capture both in an experience not to be missed by any appreciator of musical theatre.   
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