This super amateur production of Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street has plenty to be very proud about. I am attending their Saturday matinee with a near capacity audience all baying for blood, a well-sung production and a theatrical deep dive into Sweeney’s vengeful return to his former barber’s shop on Fleet Street in London where he was known as Benjamin Barker before the misfortunes of life struck and madness prevailed.
And… as we ‘attend the tale of Sweeney Todd’ the talented Gatepost Theatre Company deliver a practically perfect and thrillingly unique production of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s dystopian masterwork of musical theatre. Expertly directed by Chris Collington the tight-knit ensemble are note perfect and do not put a single foot wrong working the piece magnificently through a multiplicity of entrances and exits in singular or group movements that are a hypnotising mix of naturalistic and stylised. The cleverly directed ensemble work is just one of the faultless highlights of this truly gripping production. The face masks are a genius inclusion and maximise the eerie atmospheres on stage.
Five stars on East Midlands Theatre indicate an extraordinary show that one would happily go back and watch again and Gatepost’s electric production of Sweeney Todd deserves every one of those stars. The Saturday evening show will be hitting its grisly heights as I type out this review and I expect that many of the audience this week will speak very highly of what amateurs can achieve and the clear musical theatre talents that exist or are being discovered in the East Midlands.
Chris Collington gives a dramatically towering performance as a brooding and dangerous Sweeney Todd and is pitch perfect in his musical quest for revenge upon a creepy Judge Turpin (Simon Owen) and the dangerous, diabolical and deranged Beadle Bamford (Luke Grainger). Collington’s gradual build up to the crescendo in ‘My Friends’ is a musical theatre ‘acting through singing’ class vividly in action. Lottie Lodge (Mrs Lovett) adds her characterful and confident tonsils and vocals to the production and her comedy and dramatic skills show a young performer already at the top of her game. She is very amusing and clarity personified in such songs and duets as ‘The Worse Pies in London’, ‘By The Sea’ and ‘Not While I’m Around’. Her relationship with Harrison Ince’s Tobias is both palpable and touching.
As this dark musical drama envelopes a rapt Sat Mat audience there will be many in the audience who are also appreciating the performing and singing talents of Jack Lawrence as the ardent young lover Anthony and the beautiful dulcet tones of Kiah Smith as the cruelly imprisoned Johanna. Tragically brief is the stage life of the corrupt charlatan ‘Italian’ barber Pirelli played and sung with gusto and a fabulous accent by Gary Heap. Razor sharp cut throat stuff you might say. Well, he had it coming.
Mark Green’s rectangular constructivist stage settings work perfectly for this production and I particularly like the use of the stage long lower level lit up gauze which adds a demonic shadowy effect to the opening scenes. Stephen Greatorex’s dramatic lighting excites as always and proves once again why his creativity and skills are in such demand on the local amateur circles. The use of the whole stage including much upper level work means that the eyes always have something new to feast upon as well as the ears.
Overall, this brilliantly-realised and well-performed production of Sweeney Todd gives us a very theatrically satisfying way to spend a Saturday afternoon at May Hall Trent College Long Eaton, even if the unusual tasting meat pies at the interval had sold out. Well, they were popular. I think they contained a bloody tincture of critic.