Sweeny Todd is arguably one of the finest works in musical theatre. It's not camp froth, but rather a dark and complex show with highly operatic moments. It's one of the best examples of Sondheim's genius you will find. The trouble is, it's such a challenging piece, it's not often staged well on the Fringe. Thankfully that's not the case here.
For those unfamiliar with the tale of Sweeny Todd, he operated a barber's in London's Fleet Street in the early 1800s above a pie shop. Legend has it that Todd would cut his victims' throats, and his lover, Mrs Lovett, would bake the carcasses into meat pies. Christopher Bond used this story to create his 1973 play, and Sondheim's musical version is in turn based on that play.
The erringly brilliant score is both haunting and persistent, and the lack of a full orchestra doesn't detract from the power with which Fitz Theatre Company present it. In fact the simplicity and pureness of the keyboard seems a perfect match for the sharply detached rhythms.
The impressive cast would not be out of place in a professional production. Matt Wilkinson's Sweeney is solid and totally believable. Opposite him, Annabel Lloyd plays Mrs Lovett at just the right pitch for the batty-but-street wise accomplice. The pair also direct, and it's clear they've closely observed previous productions of this musical to produce a truthful version that fans will adore.
Musically it's spot on. With 14 actors, they have real emotional power in the ensemble numbers, and also the talent to deliver solo pieces. In particular I thought Chris Hancock (Anthony) and Isabella Gage (Johanna) did an excellent job with Kiss Me, a tricky song at the best of times with its counterpoint and angular harmonies. I spent the entire 1 hour 40 minutes with a wide grin of appreciation.
Dare I say it? Kill for a ticket.