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Review: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street at The Sydney Opera House

Review by Lauren Donikian

Brick columns, endless wooden stairs and mist greet you as you enter the Drama Theatre at The Sydney Opera House. The Orchestra stirs and the music is haunting. Figures start to move around the stage and as your eyes adjust you can see the faces of the ensemble. In period clothing and powdered white faces they feel like they are staring into your soul. They start to sing, their incredible operatic voices singing in various harmonies, singing over each other, repeating, and drowning each other out. To make them seem even more intimidating they move to the front of the stage with lights beneath them as if they are telling ghost stories around the campfire. They are focused and intense and I am hooked.

Sweeney Todd, the fictional character is a barber who is known for murdering his clients with one close shave of a razor. Instead of disposing of their bodies he gifts them to his partner in crime who makes pies out of them for the town to enjoy. Through literature, television shows, and movies, generations have heard the tale of the demon barber of Fleet Street. This Tony Award winning musical which has finally made its way to Australia has been produced by A Victorian Opera and the New Zealand Opera. With music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim it’s a culmination of fear, urgency, and the delight that some people get in hurting others with a sprinkling of hope.

Ben Mingay plays an intense Sweeney Todd, with his baritone vocals, stance, and menacing stare he is the epitome of strength. His version of ‘Epiphany’ is maniacal under red lighting and his pointing to members of the audience is intimidating, but there is an obvious softening in his body when he thinks of his wife and daughter. Antoinette Halloran plays Mrs Lovett, Todds Bonnie to his Clyde. Halloran is a force on her own, with her soprano vocals and wicked smile she tickles the crowd with a cheekiness that shouldn’t be enjoyed but is welcomed. A lot of the comedy comes from the lyrics in the songs and Halloran has perfect comedic timing. Margaret Trubiano plays the Beggar Woman has a mezzo-soprano voice that is stunning, the switch between her devilish screeching and angel like vocals seems so easy and her change of stature as she moves around the stage is a huge part of the character she plays. Which is a clever decision by Director Stuart Maunder AM. Harry Targett who plays Anthony Hope is youthful and exuberant and plays his naive character well. With a glorious voice he and Ashleigh Rubenach harmonise together so beautifully. Rubenachs vocals are like a siren’s song, it is easy to get lost in the sweetness of her tone which is welcomed and cuts through some of the harsher vocals you hear throughout the musical. Jeremi Campese is a nice surprise, his rendition of ‘Not while I’m around’ is tender, innocent, and sweet. Overall, the cast and ensemble were incredible, the vocals were strong and not a false note to be heard.

Sweeney Todd was also visually appealing. Through the smokey haze at the start with green lighting the colour fades as the ensemble enter and appear to be hidden in the shadows. Their costumes lend themselves to this by representing the dreary parts of London with more subdued colours. As the story continues, more and more colours are introduced through the costuming and lighting. The costumes are richer in colour especially Mrs Lovetts, and the lights seem brighter. Set and Costume designer Roger Kirk and Lighting designer Philip Lethlean clearly worked closely together to create the world that Todd lives in.

For a dark story, I left feeling more alive than ever and couldn’t get ‘Sweeney, Sweeney, Sweeney’ out of my head. The cast brought this English legend to life with spirited performances. If you are the type of person that laughs at the most inappropriate moments or you just love quality music and supporting Australian talent then I highly recommend seeing this musical.

Image Credit: Daniel Boud


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