Thursday, 9 August 2012

THEATRE REVIEW: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street

Derry's Millennium Forum Youth Theatre Group bring a fine production of the Stephen Sondheim classic to the stage

In 2010, the Millennium Forum Youth Theatre Group staged an impressive production of "Chess". For their 2011 production, they've been given even better material to work with: “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street”. With even more youthfully exuberant talent in tow, they are able to take their efforts to a different level – and how.

Fans of the film version of Stephen Sondheim's classic show may be surprised by the opening chorus number, which in truth takes a bit of getting used to. But if the stage production is less shocking and atmospheric then the screen show, it's more light-hearted. And it's no less entertaining because of it.

What this particular stage show can't match in atmosphere and set design, it can better in boisterousness and spirit. The cast clicks, and that's what matters here above everything else.

The cast succeeds by approaching every single role in their own unique way. Like Johnny Depp, Keith Lynch is brilliant at portraying the closed off nature of the title character. But unlike Depp, he doesn’t feel the need to take himself so seriously, and proceeds to give Todd more humanity in the process. On stage, the role calls for a more energetic and theatrical portrayal, and Lynch realises this, nailing the part to a tee.

Equally impressive, if not more so, is Sharon Duffy as Sweeney's murderous accomplice, Mrs. Lovett. She is boisterous and suitably sinister, yet at the same time you realise she has a heart. Through Duffy's portrayal, the audience see a woman so driven by her own selfish motives that she never thinks of the damage done – until it's too late. In many ways, that makes her the perfect counterpart to Lynch's Sweeney. Their last "duet" is a sight to behold.

Steven McFaul is also great, really succeeding in capturing the naivety and bravery of Anthony Hope. Hope by name, hope by nature. Not as much is asked of Michelle Curran's Johanna, but her one big number – "Green Finch And Linnet Bird" – is delivered so beautifully that you can’t help but be spellbound. Her love duet with McFaul is no less effective. Praise is due to her for capturing Johanna’s vulnerability with so little time, like Northern Ireland's very own Jayne Wisener did on the big screen. Add Simon Quigg's suitably snidely Judge Turpin and Joanne Bonner's convincing Beggar Woman, among others, and you have a cast to be proud of.

The flaws in the source material – the underwritten romance and Mrs. Lovett's small moment of gullibility – are overcome not just by the energy of the cast, but by the work of the production team. Set design is marvellous, with the pie shop, upstairs apartment and bake house standing out. The choreography is good too, commendably ensuring that the chorus is involved as much as possible despite the lack of chorus numbers in the script.

A fine all round production of a well-loved musical.

(Originally written on August 5, 2011.)