You’ll be left grasping for superlatives if you are lucky enough to be in the audience at Derby Theatre this week, as the production of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is simply stupendous.
It is a full-blooded triumph in every sense with an ingenious set, hugely talented cast and magnificent music, directed by Michael Haslam.
Sondheim’s lyrics are complex, clever and comic and Hugh Wheeler’s plot both savage and sentimental – under the direction of Daniel Buckroyd these essential fabrics of the show are resplendent.
He says he is a huge fan of dramatic musical theatre and wanted to stay faithful to the traditional setting of what he calls ‘an ambitious, edge-of-the -seat, roller-coaster of a show’.
The 19th century melodrama is therefore firmly placed in a Dickensian Victorian London.
The set, designed by Sara Perks, uses the theatre’s revolving stage to give us a two-storey building with, Mrs Lovett’s pie shop below Todd’s barbershop from where he dispatches his bloody victims to the infamous bakehouse.
The legendary fable tells the story of Todd, played by Hugh Maynard, a brooding, obsessive barber unjustly sent to jail in Australia, who, upon escaping vows revenge for what happened to him and his wife and daughter.
He reopens his barber shop and those who subsequently become victim of his close shaves are turned into grotesquely gory pies by his landlady.
Maynard’s presence on stage is looming and threatening from the start. The West End star is suitably commanding and he has an unerring ability to unsettle the audience with his menacing lust for murder.
It is almost as if the Olivier Award nominee Sophie-Louise Dann was born to take on the role of Mrs Lovett. Her comic-timing is excellent and allows us to soak up every ounce of wit and each delicious inuendo.
Watching her cheekily overcome her moral revulsion at murder as she realises the potential for profit is a joy.
The two of them were surrounded by an ensemble who make the most of the other larger-than-life characters and they all received thunderous applause at the curtain.
David Durham, plays the self-flagellating Judge Turpin, Christina Bennington, who has a beautiful voice, is his ward Johanna, Jack Wilcox is her young lover Anthony Hope, Julian Hoult is Beadle Bamford, Ryan Heenan the urchin-like Tobias Ragg, Simon Shorten Signor Pirelli, Daniel Buckley is Jonas Fogg and Kara Lane the beggar woman.
The community ensemble are Olivia Dean, David Polkey, Helena Rimmer, Deepak Aujla, Rebekah Fleming, Dominic Gibbs, Terry Smith, Josh Birchall, Kezia Hughes, Emma Slusarenko, Anna Kate Golding and Drew Baxter.
The show, which has been produced in conjunction with the Mercury Theatre, Colchester, is on until October 22. For tickets go to http://www.derbytheatre.co.uk
The show will be performed at Colchester from October 26-November 12. For tickets go to http://www.mercurytheatre.co.uk