Image Courtesy of Mike Suffield

As an active member of performing arts societies at The University of Liverpool, I know the satisfaction of working hard for a big reaction and the joy of watching someone else’s hard work pay off. From the minimalist set successfully welcoming us to London, to the barber’s chair that Sweeney uses to dispose of his victims; the entire feel of the musical is a testament to the joyous pay off performing arts societies can achieve with a little bit of time and a great deal of effort.

Sweeney Todd and Mrs Lovett (Tom Doyle and Mia Gregory) were a darkly sensational double-act. Doyle’s portrayal of Todd is gaunt, rough and ready in terms of appearance and subtly unhinged in performance. His baritone is highly adaptable. Doyle performs powerfully, depicting Todd’s descent into madness and a softness that’s worryingly human, demonstrating Todd’s gentler, tortured, caring side; even if Sweeney’s only friends are a razor and a chair. Doyle’s masterful performance puts us in mind that anyone could ‘serve a dark and vengeful God’. He is the tragic villain you hate to love.

The contrast found in Gregory’s witty and blunt Mrs Lovett is wonderful. Gregory conquered the snap changes between Lovett’s aloof, beautifully comedic vacancy and her driven, matter-of-fact focus. Doyle and Gregory’s bizarre relationship is a superb world of contrasts, Gregory’s adoration jarring with Doyle’s obsessive drive to enact his revenge. These contrasts make Gregory’s Lovett come alive as a character – her voice belted its way into my heart.

Toby (Jace Clark) didn’t initially strike me as a young character. His voice, whilst technically great, didn’t immediately establish that ‘this character is a young boy’ in my mind. However, through Clark’s acting, this youthfulness grows on you until their rendition of ‘Not While I’m Around’ brings forth all of Toby’s youthful, heartwarming charm that brought a genuine smile to my face. Clark’s Toby was a brilliant and much-needed injection of sweetness in between Doyle and Gregory’s devious machinations.

With the morally repulsive Sweeney Todd as the titular character, a villain that makes the audience physically recoil is demanded. Thankfully, Judge Turpin (Eddie Gosney) is joyously unnerving to watch. His rendition of ‘Mea Culpa’ became truly uncomfortable to watch, his bass/baritone warbling along to the unnerving fantasies he was enacting. Gosney took the role and made it his own, downplaying the villainous and pushing the desperation and sick obsession to the fore; making Turpin look suitably weak, insipid and vile. Gosney both mirrors and contrasts Doyle well in this respect and is enjoyable to watch.

As well as Gosney’s on stage desires embracing the dark comedy of Sweeney Todd, Signor Pirelli (Jack Gloyens), the Beggar Woman (Lizzy Hardingham) and Beadle Bamford (Sam Baxter) were all immensely strong comedic performances,  peppering the play with gut-wrenching guffaws.  From tights, to thrusting old women, to calling in the boys, all of their comedic timings were to the second perfect.

Anthony and Johanna (Andy Treacy and Anna Tucker) were a very sweet duo also, complementing each other vocally and offering the audience a lovely light relief from the tensions of Doyle and Gregory’s relationship. Their pure bond is exemplified in Treacy’s lolloping lovesickness and endearing awkwardness, as well as Tucker’s visual picture of innocence. In my opinion, Tucker’s voice was my favourite in terms of ability and tone. Her strong falsetto is flawless. Every rendition of Treacy’s glorious ‘Johanna’ and Tucker’s ‘Kiss Me’ felt legitimate and made me root for them despite the tragic story unfolding before me.

The Chorus (James Ahsam, Andrew Johnston, Rachel MacBryde, Hannah MacWilliam and Faye O’Hara), combined remarkably to provide a didactic and powerful backing to the main cast. The little individual quirks they brought to large crowd scenes, from skipping and gymnastics to laughable bobbing in ‘Pirelli’s Miracle Elixir’, they made the audience feel welcomed and enlivened every crowd scene.

The directorship and choreography were well executed. Josh Cox (Director) and Tara Roberts (Choreographer) combined to bring an admirable show together. The juxtaposition in the use of red and blue lighting, poignantly jumbling the concepts of love and vengeance with each scene, were well used. Roberts’ choreography helped drive the story-telling duties of The Chorus, further adding to the play’s excellent presentation. The music (Emily Futcher and Charlie Humphries) also discordantly underpinned the technically brilliant singing of the cast. From the haunting violins to the gentle piano, the band harmonised perfectly with the singers. This skillful performance added to the haunting nature of the musical.

Sondheim’s musicals are notoriously difficult to sing, stage and direct and it is truly a very large feather in LUST’s forever-growing cap that they managed to put on a Sondheim in just eight weeks.

If ever you wanted a cannibalistic murder-fest of an evening (an evening I can highly endorse) then I recommend that you go to The Stanley Theatre and attend the tale of Sweeney Todd.

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