The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
The Hills Musical Company. Stirling Theatre. 12 Nov 2011
Sweeney Todd is Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece: a musical thriller in which every nuance of character, plot and lyric content is perfectly judged. Credit here is also due to Christopher Bond, whose play Sondheim took as the model for the work. Bond had successfully resurrected one of the great urban myths of London and transformed what had been a tenuous plot based on theft, murder and cannibalism into a revenge drama with Shakespearean overtones. The music Sondheim created is challenging both rhythmically and harmonically and the complexity of the ensemble writing alone puts the work beyond the reach of most amateur groups.
Not so in this production by the Hills Musical Company at the Stirling Community Theatre. A great amount of effort has gone into this show and it is quite simply a triumph. The no-nonsense set works extremely well to deliver a vista of Dickensian London, giving the impression of dirty streets and wharfs by the Thames. Director Hayley Horton strikes just the right balance between Victorian melodrama and a more naturalistic style of acting which seems dead right. The casting is also excellent, with uniformly strong performances from all the central characters.
Fiona Delaine as Mrs. Lovett produces a star turn, capturing both the battiness and cunning of the character to a tee. Her performance of Worst Pies in London was terrific, but she also excelled in the more reflective Wait and By the Sea, which was a hoot. Rod Schultz’s Ray Winstoneesque Todd had the right sense of tragic intensity, mixed with vulnerability, which is essential if we are to empathize with this character. He presented an entirely believable serial killer without resorting to shouting his way through the role or whispering it a la Johnny Depp.
As the young lovers Johanna and Anthony, Belinda Smith and David Simmons gave excellent performances of their respective solos and their duet, Kiss Me, which was beautifully flustered. They sang lyrically and brought more depth to their cardboard cutout characters than I have seen in many productions of this work.
Eden Plaisted excelled as Pirelli and Joel Valenti, a true bass, was sinister and suitably vile as the corrupt Judge Turpin.
Other notable performances included Fahad Farooque as Tobias; beautifully sung and truly engaging, Jamie Jewell’s marvelous Beadle Bamford, a wonderfully obsequious creation and Michelle Nightingale, who was outstanding as the Beggar Woman.
Special mention must go to the ensemble, which was not only musically strong but dramatically excellent and the sterling work of Mark Delaine as Musical Director. The band were terrific and the chamber ensemble forces gave the show the right kind of intimacy without losing the power of the big moments.
All in all then a must-see for Sondheim fans. Stirling Musical Company has done the master proud.