Opera North has brought to London a quite riveting production with no weak links in the cast and provocative direction from David McVicar. The setting and general mood was even darker if that were possible than the original production by Harold Prince, with the laughs gradually becoming more nervous as the evening progressed. The stage is dominated by a huge wooden wheel set in motion at crucial points in the drama, suggesting to this viewer a grim wheel of fate or destiny.
Steven Page portrays a viciously angry Todd without descending into a rant or unmusical yell; that horrible moment of musical irony, when he dispatches victim after victim to a ravishing melody, was unbearably moving yet awful.
One of the extraordinary things about this work is its astonishing ability to portray unspeakably dark characters with twisted motives into believable people with whom one can sympathise in spite of oneself. Sweeney Todd himself is an almost Rigoletto-like figure in his need for vengeance. Like Verdis character, one can understand Todds desire for revenge, and his final lament over his wife whom he has unwittingly murdered was terribly poignant.
Todds partner-in-crime, Mrs Lovett, was compellingly played by Beverley Klein who erased any comparisons with the roles creator Angela Lansbury. Klein really had this ultimately tragic character down to a tee, and her relish of words made her opening number a veritable tour-de-force of characterisation. The final duet of Act One where thoughts of the various customers to be made into pies are set to an infectious Tchaikovskian waltz was both hilarious and disturbing.
All the other members of the cast are well suited to their parts. Daniel Broads singing of the song Johanna had all the requisite Puccini-esque passion, whilst as the girl herself, Anna-Clare Monk was the picture of innocence with a lovely voice to match.
One very interesting aspect of the production was the inclusion of the nearly always omitted song for the Judge in which he flagellates himself whilst watching Johanna through a keyhole. Here, a young man hired for the purpose delivered the whipping it was a gripping scene, with Malcolm Rivers displaying the tortured mind of the Judge to perfection.
This is, quite simply, an excellent production and makes one admire afresh the power of this remarkable piece of music-theatre.
- Further performances until 15 June
- Box Office: 020 7863 8000