Theatre Review: Sweeney Todd @ The Buxton Opera House

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Buxton Opera House has a reputation for giving local talent a chance to perform on its marvellous stage on a regular basis and Sweeney Todd is the latest production to be given an airing. The experience of working within a professional atmosphere has usually seen the performers rise to the challenge and provide the audiences with a performance that belies the amateur status of the cast members. It is pleasing to report that the non-professional actors once again stepped up to the plate to give a professional performance that allowed the audience to offer its warm appreciation at the end of the show.

Todd was transported to Australia on what he believes to be a trumped up charge. On his return to London, he is told that his wife is no longer alive and that his daughter Johanna is a ward of court under the guardianship of Judge Turpin. Swearing to take revenge on the Judge, the demon barber’s first victim is Pirelli – a wannabe blackmailer – and he is urged to continue his cutthroat business by Mrs Lovett who sees the source of fresh meat as invaluable to her ailing pie-making business.

Sub-plots in the chase to lure Turpin to the barber’s chair are Anthony Hope’s love for Johanna as he attempts to save her from the Judge’s lascivious clutches and the adoption of Tobias – Pirelli’s former aide – who may be naïve but is able to work out the grisly details of the pie business.

Will the Judge evade his fate? Will Todd cut one throat too many? Only the audience member will find out.

James Rockey is well cast in the title role and alongside his strong voice he has the ability to bring out both the menace and the tortured soul of a mass murderer. Jennifer Hague is also excellent as the brassy but conniving Mrs Lovett who is able to change her vocal style to match the score with ease.

Lizzy Schroeder (Johanna) and Rhydian Jenkins (Anthony) both have beautiful voices and work well in their scenes together while Robbie Carnegie is another actor who is able to show the inner torment of a man tortured by his carnal desires.

Tavis Hill (Beadle), Clara Coslett (Beggar Woman) and Jamie Formoy (Pirelli) all produce convincing performances while Lucas Bailey often steals the scene and has the audience taking his character Tobias to its heart.

Penned by the genius that is Stephen Sondheim, the theatregoer would expect a great score and there is no disappointment. A Little Priest is some light relief amongst the gore, Not While I’m Around provides delicious interaction between Mrs Lovett and Tobias and Pretty Women goes some way to explaining the actions of Sweeney Todd and Judge Turpin.

Director/Choreographer Paul Kerryson has produced a masterful piece of musical theatre that brings out the best in his inexperienced cast and allows the contrasts between humour and the bleakness of the storyline to be highlighted. Clever lighting designed by Steve Davis and a haunting score under the direction of Richard Atkinson all add to the experience. In addition, Ian Tregaskis has designed a set that is simple but highly effective in creating an evil ambience. Such a shame that a curtain malfunction regularly spoiled the atmosphere.

At almost three hours in length including interval, this is longer than most pieces of musical theatre but the attention of the audience was held throughout. The production is a credit to all involved and proves once again that the future of theatre in Buxton and its surrounds is in good hands.