Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, from an adaptation by Christopher Bond, book by Hugh Wheeler
National Youth Music Theatre
Blood, pies and shiny razor blades, Sondheim's Sweeney Todd returns to London. The National Youth Music Theatre celebrates its 34th year in this glorious production about the demon barber of Fleet Street.
The production takes place not in a comfy theatre, but in a disused Victorian warehouse that has become one of London's most exciting artistic venues: Village Underground. This is an inspired choice by the NYMT and a perfect example of where the surroundings of a location easily and effectively become the setting of the piece. The weathered brick archways conjure up images of a grimy London of yesteryear and as the overture erupts, the audience is transported back in time as they await the tale of Sweeney Todd.
Matt Nalton makes a very strong Sweeney. His voice is pitch perfect as he effortlessly tackles some of Sondheim's most difficult numbers. His partner in crime, Mrs Lovett, is adeptly played by Lizzie Wofford. Wofford has great comic timing and chemistry with Nalton's icy Todd. There is, however, something missing in both of their performances - dirt. This Todd and Lovett are the cleanest in London, and that also goes for the rest of the principal cast. It seems that with the dank and dirty surroundings, they have somehow managed to remain fresh faced and well groomed.
Todd's daughter, Johanna, is a most challenging role to play; she must be weak and anxious at times and passionate and courageous at others. The role also calls for a portrayal of someone with possible mental health issues, driven to despair by her warder, Judge Turpin. Rebecca Nash succeeds in her portrayal of the role and also manages to sing unaffected whilst crouched and rocking back and forth; here is a voice fit for any West End stage. Tom Milligan as her lover, Anthony Hope, is another young performer who could very easily tread the West End boards. He has wonderful stage presence and a great maturity about his acting, both of which will serve him well for a long career onstage.
Other memorable performances come from Stewart Clarke as a wonderfully camp Adolfo Pirelli and Michael Byers as his assistant Tobias Ragg. Byers is one of the youngest cast members, however appears to be one of the most experienced and talented. At every moment he commands the entire audience's attention with his well delivered acting and wonderful voice. His rendition of 'Not While I'm Around' is truly glorious.
Of course, being a musical, music plays an important role in Sweeney Todd and praise must go to the 25 strong orchestra who fill the air sublimely with Sondheim's score. It is such a rare treat to hear an orchestra of this size and of this quality in a Fringe venue.
Any production set in traverse will always suffer from audience members never being able to see everything properly, however under Martin Constantine's direction, audience members are treated to as much as possible. The ensemble constantly play out to the audience, glaring menacingly as if searching for Todd's next victim on his behalf, but unfortunately this production shies away from the bloody nature of the piece. Although dark, NYMT's Sweeney Todd could not be described as gory. The death scenes of Todd's victims are incredibly underperformed and it seems that more attention has been paid to his clever barber's chair and disposal chute than on how to reveal Sweeney's cut-throat nature without relying on fancy props.
Sondheim celebrated his 80th birthday earlier this year and the NYMT's latest production means that celebrations can continue for a little longer. Jude Law, Sheridan Smith and Matt Lucas all started off as NYMT members and it seems that the next batch of NYMT stars has already been found.
Reviewer: Simon Sladen