Guest contributor Paul T. Davies reviewed Platform Musicals’ Sweeney Todd at The Headgate Theatre for Keep Colchester Cool.

REVIEW: SWEENEY TODD ★★★★

Since it’s short-lived original London production in 1980, Sweeny Todd has grown into possibly Stephen Sondheim’s best loved and admired musical. I’ve attended the tale of Sweeny Todd many times, and like all multiple viewings, I always hope that a new production will reveal new insights for me. Platform musicals achieve that with ease, in an astonishing reconfiguration of the material that presents a stripped down, chamber piece version that uses every inch of the Headgate stage, wings and auditorium.

Andrew Hodgson’s inspired direction adapts the material so well that it feels like a fresh musical. In place of blood pouring from cut throats, a highly effective red light baths the stage and the exit doors, sacrificing none of the horror by using symbolism. The key to a great production is in its story telling, and this is an ensemble telling the tale to the highest quality- the singing from every member of the company is excellent. I heard lyrics I sometimes miss during Sondheim’s challenging cross-singing!

Heading the company, Graham Bowden is an outstanding Sweeny Todd, tortured by his past, a portrayal the makes clear how consumed by revenge he is, how unable to ever have a normal life again. His performance becomes stronger once he ditches his unnecessary Act One wig; he looks much leaner and meaner in Act Two! He is expertly matched by Sally Fisher’s brilliant Mrs. Lovett, manipulating, sly and loving and hopelessly love struck, the many layers of her personality revealed in wonderful emotional transitions. The duets between them are the highlights of a show packed with highlights, especially “A Little Priest” where the plan to shave beards of gentlemen who are then turned into pie fillings is hatched!

Barney Fritz gives an excellent, mature performance as lonely, sad but loveable orphan Toby, driven mad by his encounter with Todd, and Caroline Fritz gives the Beggar Woman life and sympathy, holding back that final reveal brilliantly. Adam Duarte-Dias is a powerful Anthony, both in voice and stage presence, in love with Joanna, who turns out to be Todd’s daughter, a beautifully sung performance by Jenny Collins, who makes the audience fall in love with her the first moment she appears. David King is the only actor I have ever seen who makes me feel a few seconds of sympathy for the sinister, perverted Judge Turpin, flagellating himself over his love for his ward, Joanna, before deciding marrying her is a good idea!

Under the skilful and brilliant musical direction of Neil Somerville, the tension is confidentially built by this strong ensemble, and it’s the kind of show that makes you wish for a longer run. As it is, Grandmother’s of Colchester may have to be sold to ensure a ticket this weekend.

Until November 21st, Box office 01206 360000
http://www.headgatetheatre.co.uk/

PAUL T. DAVIES

Picture credit Sally Parkinson Photography


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