Debutant direct Alex Evans' production works in small doses of simplicityJoe Cook

Made demonic not by the antics of its protagonists, but instead by technical troubles and executional shortcomings, this retelling of the musical theatre classic could use some more time in the oven before it’s ready to be served up to audiences.

Debutant director Alex Evans’s production works in small doses of simplicity. When the actors are comfortable and confident in music and action, unhampered by technical problems, the show’s satisfying flavour begins to shine through. Too often, however, this rendition bites off more than it can chew, slightly falling apart under the weight of complexity inherent in Sondheim and Wheeler’s music and words. Principal among the problems are issues of a technical nature, including solvable glitches such as missed cues from lights and sound effects, but also more inherent flaws in the show’s construction.

Sondheim nerds who know the show's lyrics by heart might get more out of this productionJoe Cook

Appropriately devilish red lighting injects a needed sinister atmosphere but proves to be a burden during more complicated scenes. When action transpires in two places at once, lighting design is meant to delineate between different settings, but often ends up leaving one portion of the stage and the actors it contains in complete darkness, making an already complicated moment more confusing. Costumes are similarly inconsistent, with some characters receiving steampunk-inspired looks comprised of leather laces and corsets, and others dressed in more standard fare.

"the production is particularly maddening because its myriad problems mask the talent of certain cast members who rise above the jumble to make their marks on the show"

Actors and musicians are also guilty of adding to this confusion. Some curious staging decisions aside, including crucial moments in which characters turn their backs completely to the theatre, the show would be much improved if performers made a conscious effort to speak out and annunciate more clearly so that audience members can see their faces and hear their words. The few chorus numbers reveal an overall uneasiness with the notoriously challenging score, and musical exactness is at times traded for unnecessary speed and volume that borders on shrieking—a tactic that is employed by some of the principal players whose voices are ill-suited to their roles. While Sondheim nerds who know the show’s lyrics by heart might get more out of this production than Sweeney Todd neophytes who will struggle to understand what’s sung, they are equally likely to be frustrated by the under-realisation of the music’s razor-sharp counterpoint.


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The production is particularly maddening because its myriad problems mask the talent of certain cast members who rise above the jumble to make their marks on the show. Charlotte Husnjak’s confident command of Mrs Lovett is a welcome presence whenever she features, providing the bulk of the show’s genuinely funny moments. Johanna is played with charming innocence by Jess Beaumont, whose clear soprano voice best demonstrates the potential within Sondheim’s score. Raeffe Gibson and Abbas Khan are satisfying villains in Beadle and Judge Turpin respectively, equal parts smarmy and creepy in their desire to control their fellow humans. Tobias, the boyish simpleton helper, is a lone locus of sweetness in the hands of Joseph Folley, and fan-favorite Pirelli (Nicky Vatvani) brings a much-needed change of tone, while sacrificing musical exactitude for his over-the-top interpretation. Satvik Subramaniam’s Todd spends too much time brooding, emotions supposedly churning behind an expressionless visage. He’s most entertaining when dropping the stoic act, releasing his pent-up rage, madness, and occasional glee in scenes with Lovett. It is those moments of emotional explosion that make the show believable; it’s hard to imagine that someone so utterly in control and straight-faced would be capable of Todd’s gruesome crimes.

While Sweeney Todd is sadly not a cut above its theatrical competition, this production did show signs of improvement during its opening night (huge thanks go out to whoever decided to ditch the microphones after Act I). With a few more turns through Mrs Lovett’s proverbial meat grinder, perhaps this Brickhouse Theatre Company’s rendition can grow to be as “sweet and tender” as her meat pi

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