Mesmerising Sweeney Todd got me by the throat
Lots to love about Nick Bagnall’s stripped-back Sweeney Todd in Liverpool, including the cast, acting, and absorbing scenes between Sweeney Todd and Mrs Lovett and the decision to set it in a time of Brexhaustion. Everything seems fresh minted.
Bagnall’s wickedly heartfelt production with just four musicians and nine actors is something very special indeed. The marriage of humour and horror is expertly done and never gimmicky.
Liam Tobin is a grounded Demon Barber of Fleet Street, who “shaved the faces of gentlemen who never thereafter were heard of again.” His ghoulish demeanour is always striking.
‘Demons are prowling everywhere, nowadays,’ observes young street orphan Tobias, here played brilliantly by Shiv Rabheru, in ‘Not While I’m Around’. This sequence shines through the prism of social poverty, environmental apocalypse and Brexit Britain.
It’s a lot more earnest, prescient as well.
You can see why Everyman programmed Sondheim’s musical thriller: it’s a genuinely political piece about austerity, the underdog and the lengths that desperate people will go to for survival.
The thing that’s really been obsessing me though, is everything about the muted design and brilliant cast who prove truly inventive – interacting with the audience with verve and wrapping their brains around Sondheim’s complex score with a knowing wink.
Michael Vale’s design envelopes the stage with simple effects and minimal props – the staging is in the round and the action takes place on a metallic disc that is often lit from below in tones of blood red and spooky green.
There is real invention: the cast take turns to rotate the central action manually using their hands or a stick.
The most surprising thing about this Sweeney Todd, however, is Kacey Ainsworth as nonchalant Mrs Lovett – the criminal mastermind behind all this human pie-making; dressed in a white vest and wearing trainers Ainsworth has the audience in the palm of her hands from the start and this Mrs Lovett is a creation of true genius.
Ainsworth is very good throughout, especially in extended dream sequence ‘By The Sea’, which may be the happiest few minutes of regional theatre that you will see all year.
In short, this is the food of love: get on a train and play on.
Sweeney Todd is at Everyman, Liverpool, until 18 May.