“to see Sweeney’s victims ‘yeet’ themselves into the abyss beneath the raised decking caused constant joyous anticipation”

Collingwood Woodplayers take on Sondheim’s challenging musical Sweeney Todd in a dark and bold production that haunts, twists, and captivates. 

Firstly, a huge commendation should go to the production team, particularly the set designers Steph Roarty and George Storey. Once the curtain rises, the audiences are met by a tremendous set, complete with backdrops, canvas art and drop in signs that have impressive hand-written detail. The ‘Sweeney’s Barbershop’ sign was especially high-standard, although the creative and production team members existing as the names of the Pale-Ales left me thinking that Michael Crilly was incredibly (and literally) short-changed at 7 pence! 

Crilly pulled together a cohesive and visually striking show. The famous ‘Sweeney chair’ was particularly delightful, and for lack of a better word, to see Sweeney’s victims ‘yeet’ themselves into the abyss beneath the raised decking caused constant joyous anticipation. I simultaneously found myself nervous for the fates of the characters, and battling the urge to ask if I could have a go on the chair at the interval. Although there were some first night mishaps with regards to mic feedback and some slower set changes, the technical demands of the show were pulled off with ease. The affects created by overlaying soundscapes on the score, flying banners in above the stage and using multitiered lighting showcased a truly dynamic and thoroughly talented tech team. A particular highlight for me was a sudden snapped red wash during ‘Epiphany’, from Lizzie Ryder, which elevated Sweeney’s growing bloodlust and madness perfectly. 

The show’s other major merit lies with the talented singing of vocalists. Sondheim is demanding, but Sweeney Todd features some of the most difficult duets and small group numbers in the canon. Credit must go to co-music directors: Luke Mallon and Charles Moscrop for effectively coordinating these numbers – the highlights for me were ‘Ah Miss’ and ‘Johanna – Quartet.’ Despite the occasional panic-stricken look towards the conductor cam, the ensemble truly shone in the recurring ‘Ballad’ sequences, delivering their harmonies solidly and performing with compelling threateningness. The soprano lines consistently popped off, and all featured soloists were gripping in ‘The Wig Makers Sequence’ as the Sweeney revenge-plot reached its climax. 

Sweeney and Mrs Lovett, played by Carl Murta and Lolly Sillitoe respectively, were stylistically demonic and fiendish and Hannah Jones’s vision to have Murta appear in full skeletal-like makeup seemed to be a Tim Burton-esque nod to the much-loved film adaptation. Overall, it served as a wonderful contrast to Anthony and Joanna, played by Jo Price and Charlotte Dixon, whose relationship in comparison lacked nothing short of pure golden-retriever energy. Sillitoe’s characterisation was outstanding, mastering an eerie interpretation of Mrs Lovett without sacrificing the comedy of her lines, and Murta’s wide-eyed, unblinking Sweeney was unsettling and suitably crazed in his lust for revenge. 

A standout for me was Dixon, who infused what could so easily be a relatively ‘wet’ or boring character with such life. ‘Green Finch and Linnet Bird’ sored and haunted the rest of the production. Her Johanna felt very real, amongst the absurdity of the plot, and her scenes with Price were beautifully believable and injected a great amount of hope into the story. You were rooting for them both. Hannah Sheppard’s sassy Tobias was a hilarious take, and her alongside Lucas Kirkby, Olivia Stack, Nick Wright, Ned Reid demonstrated a wonderful ability to distinctly create nuanced and thought-through characters who all shudderingly made the peculiar story come to life. 

Aside from a few absent props, and perhaps a need for a slightly more coherent make up aesthetic across the ensemble, the show was a great accomplishment. I was part of a full and bustling crowd, no doubt down to the fantastic efforts of Producer Sarah Johnston and the production made the audience both cackle and gawp. The band, led by Carolyn Leung, (considering that they were in a different room to the actors!) accompanied the singers commendably and cleverly added transition music to help make scene-changes more seamless. 

Overall, Sweeney Todd is a tale I attended and enjoyed being told, and I would recommend it as a great revision break for anyone looking for some spooky cooky theatre this week! 

By Flo Lunnon

Sweeney Todd is performing at Mark Hillary Arts Centre until the 29th April

Photo Credits: Collingwood Woodplayers