London’s newest theatre last night opened its first full scale production and what an opener – a bloody brilliant production of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
It’s hard not to get intimately involved in the show at the new Twickenham Theatre. The performance area is barely 12 feet squared with the audience sitting in a few rows around the raised stage.
So you’re going to get a bit of splash-back as the stage blood gurgles, squirts and gushes from a selection of sliced and diced throats.
But boy is it fun. In charge of the cutthroat is cult hero and former Rocky Horror star David Bedella with the ample Sarah Ingram serving up a selection of tasty treats as pie-maker Nelly Lovett.
Sweeney Todd is a huge show for such a tiny venue but the cast of nine pull it off with a combination of superb singing, fun and just the right amount of Gothic charm.
Gravel-voiced Bedella gives a commanding performance and quite clearly relishes the part (though I wouldn’t ask him for a close shave).
As crazed Sweeney Todd he sets out to avenge the wrongs against his family at the hands of the evil Judge Turpin (a wonderfully sleazy performance by Mark McKerracher).
What better way of seeking vengeance than by slitting the throats of those responsible for his misery – helped by a Heath Robinson contraption to dispatch the bodies through swing doors as though they’re on a fairground ride?
This jolly romp through Victorian mass murder is aided and abetted by a splendidly upbeat score from Sondheim.
Where else would you hear a charming ditty called A Little Priest extolling the virtues of Mrs Lovett’s quite unique meat pies? Or the romantic Johanna, sung amid the slaughter.
It’s a custom-made role for Bedella whose powerful baritone voice booms through the small auditorium while his brooding intensity gives Sweeney the persona of a tragic, if flawed, hero.
It’s really unsettling when he glares at an audience member while swinging that silver razor wildly about.
But he’s almost upstaged by the chirpy Ingram and her magnificent décolletage which almost deserve a programme credit of its own. Gosh, you get an eyeful when she bends over.
She is outstanding as the spirited and ingenious pie maker who finds a new food source for her famous pastry delights.
Mikaela Newton gives tremendous support as Mrs Lovett’s unwitting apprentice, the ragamuffin, Tobias.
And Genevieve Kingsford and Josh Tevendale look delightful as the play’s innocent young lovers Johanna and Anthony.
Director Derek Anderson hasn’t cut any corners despite having to work with a pocket-sized stage. This is a cut above the rest and deserves a transfer to a larger stage.
But that’s unlikely with Emma Thompson bringing her version from Broadway and Chichester’s recent West End success with Imelda Staunton and Michael Ball.
Good luck to Twickenham Theatre. Sweeney Todd is a sensational start to future success. Now to try and get that “blood” off my skirt….
The thrilling Sweeney Todd runs until October 4