Review: Sweeney Todd sadly half-baked

Alice Mottram 11 November 2015

Sweeney Todd tries to toe a line between horror and comic relief, but finds itself an embarrassingly sticky mess of misplaced melodrama. Steven Sondheim’s 1979 musical thriller tells the tale of Sweeney Todd, a barber bent on revenge who conspires with Mrs Lovett, a pie shop owner in need of meat. 

Zak Ghazi-Torbati and Aoife Kennan largely carried the show as the barber and his accomplice respectively. Ghazi-Torbati’s vocal prowess was used with sensitivity to the score; his solos were engrossing. He played well opposite Kennan, whose awareness of Mrs Lovett’s comedic potential played in smart juxtaposition to the demon barber. 

Cast for their vocal abilities, the ensemble were strong when in chorus, but their individual acting was at times questionable. The orchestra played well under the direction of Joe Beighton and James Bartlett, though it was a shame that the sound in the auditorium occasionally lost either them or the actors. 

Set in 19th century London, Sweeney Todd calls to be staged like a steampunk Oliver!; the blackened brick walls of Fleet Street, a broken window casting chilling shadows across victims’ faces. Sadly, little thought beyond the mechanism of the barber’s chair had gone into the set design. Turquoise bird cages hung from a low wall strewn loosely with ivy, in an aesthetic entirely at odds with this musical. Similarly, the painted pie shop frontage and sign directing victims to the ‘tonsorial parlor’ were more befitting a school production than the ADC Mainshow. Whilst the workmanship of the chair is to be commended, it was telling that it prompted laughter from the audience instead of fear.

Direction largely failed this production of Sweeney Todd. Blocking was inadequate, most notably leaving the ensemble lost. Lacking conviction, it was unsure of itself as it attempted both horror and comedy. Moments of intended tension resulted in sporadic laughter from the audience, resulting in my desire to have been swallowed by my seat for sheer embarrassment. Considering the £9 student ticket price for all ADC Mainshows, Sweeney Todd is one to avoid.