Sondheim’s Sweeney is, for me, very near to perfection in terms of musical theatre. I rate it alongside West Side Story and Ragtime for wit, quality and sheer vocal demand. It’s more an opera than a musical in truth but Sondheim insists that operas are for opera houses and musicals are for theatres. So, a musical it is.
This production has been lauded by the critics and I can see why.
I don’t want anyone to take this the wrong way but it felt like a very high quality amateur production (with a budget) because the performances across the ensemble cast were riproaringly enthusiastic and heartfelt. (My point is that I sometimes feel in professional theatre that some of the passion is missing. Not here. )
This show rocks from the opening bar of Sondheim’s astounding prologue to the last bar of the shattering epilogue (both are highlights of the musical). Act 1 in particular was spellbindingly good, partly because the material is so strong. (I feel the same about West Side Story as it happens.)
But this is certainly no amdram performance. It is highly polished, visually powerful (a very good set) and musically accomplished. And what a great theatre space. My first, but not last, visit to the Dundee Rep.
I was pleasantly surprised to see Richard Conlon in the cast, playing Pirelli terrifically. (An old FCT cast member.)
It’s difficult not to make comparisons to the Johnny Depp/Helena Bonham Carter roles in the movie, but I won’t. Suffice to say that in the title role David Birrell was brilliant without being OTT. Much of the humour was reserved for Ann Louise Ross who played Mrs Lovett beautifully but particularly deviously. You really got a feeling for her as the real driving force of the operation. Poor old Sweeney is just consumed with anger and the need for remorse, old Mrs Lovett’s in it for what she can get.
This is the least gory version of Sweeney I think I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure a drop of fake blood was spilled throughout and that did slightly lessen the drama in the second act killing spree. But it didn’t spoil the overall effect.
A major shout out must go to the ‘ensemble’ who really carried the show. Too often professional musicals (especially tourers) are let down by weak chorus work because the numbers on stage are insufficient. Again, not here.
I absolutely loved this. Great value for money with a 16 strong cast and an 11 piece orchestra; three hours of entertainment, and all for £18 with a standing ovation to boot. Go on the Rep!