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Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street – The Royal Exchange, Manchester

Music &Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim

Book: Hugh Wheeler

Director: James Brining

Reviewer: Seb Farrell


Sweeney Todd - Royal ExchangeThe multi award winning seminal Sondheim piece about a murderous barber seeking vengeance and his cunning cohort pie shop owner Mrs Lovett has been both wowing and turning the stomachs of audiences since its Broadway debut in 1979 and now it’s settling in for a month long stay at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester.

Steering away entirely from the original production’s late Victorian age we’re treated to a slice of life from the Thatcherite period in England which, contrary to this reviewers initial thoughts, worked surprisingly well. The wooden tables are replaced with cheap cafe style seating and Pirelli’s famous wagon becomes a brilliantly comical Robin Reliant complete with comedy horn. Colin Richmond’s design is at times both terrifying and astonishing, from the florescent lights adorning Fogg’s Asylum to the all consuming fire and smoke of the bake house in the final scenes, the audience easily become embodied within the scenes which adds to the overall horror.

Director James Brining has skilfully squeezed every drop of pathos and humour from the original script by Hugh Wheeler and the action flows effortlessly. He is helped with a totally engrossing and surprisingly small cast and orchestra, led beautifully by George Dyer.

David Birrell plays a faultless Todd, his powerful voice matched only by his presence on stage, contorted with rage one minute strutting like a peacock the next. Gillian Bevan gives Mrs Lovett all the humour and cunning required and is a huge beneficiary of the 1980’s subplot as her ‘getting rich quick regardless of who suffers’ mentality suits the Thatcherite era almost too well.

Niamh Perry is hauntingly beautiful as Johanna, Ben Stott plays convincingly the vulnerable and traumatised Tobias and Sebastien Torkia takes on the brilliantly flamboyant Pirelli with ease. The whole cast are commanding and dominate the stage from first musical slice.

This beautifully constructed piece of dark operetta is running till the end of November, I implore you to do whatever you can, without a razor, to get a ticket. It’s ‘bloody’ marvellous.

Photo – Jonathan Keenan

The show runs until 30th November.

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