Sweeney Todd

Date 14th June 2013
Society Shenfield Operatic Society
Venue Brentwood Theatre
Type of Production Musical
Director Louise Hunt
Musical Director Adrian Ure


Author: Tessa Davies

The music in this show is Stephen Sondheim at his most technical and presents a challenge to any operatic society.   In the main, the cast stepped up to the challenge extremely well.   If I have to comment specifically on the singing it is that there seemed to be no reverb on the mics which made the vocals sound ‘thin’.  This is particularly noticeable with Sondheim’s music because there are harmonies that need to be heard and, unfortunately I could not hear them very clearly.   I am sure they were there and that MD Adrian Ure had produced the best possible results, they just weren’t very apparent in this performance.

Having said that the performances from the principal characters were strong and I particularly liked Kerry Cooke’s interpretation of Mrs Lovett.   David Pridige made a suitably anguished Sweeney Todd and the two of them performed well together.  Ian Southgate (Anthony) continues to impress with his interpretation of the character and his voice was one that stood out with its depth and roundness.   Lauren Ramshaw (Johanna) was a delightful heroine, this character has to be fairly colourless, not an easy task for any actress to do and still make an impact, but Lauren achieved this, although her singing voice, especially in the higher register, sounded a little thin.

Hugh Godfrey gave a good performance as Judge Turpin, although his singing voice would also have benefitted from a better sound system.  A special mention for Louise Byrne, who played the beggar women.  This is an important part of the production which is only revealed at the end of the play.  Her singing was strong and well rounded.  David Ward (The Beadle) and Rick McGough (Adolfo Pirelli) each brought some lovely comedy moments to their performances.

I do take issue with the use of a female to play the part of Tobias; whilst I appreciate the society wants the best person for the part, I would have thought it was possible to find a young man to play this important character.   The whole point of the first part of this character’s appearance is the ‘con’ of wearing a long wig.  When it is removed to show that the wearer has hair almost as long underneath, it undermines the whole point.

The ensemble singing was extremely good, although occasionally difficult to hear the harmonies and solos, and the cast moved the set and props to make a seamless, well-paced, production.  I thought that there were occasions when the blocking of the characters was not quite right; there were at least 5 places where the character actually had their back to the audience, for a while, whilst delivering lines or singing.  

The scenery was excellent; I continue to be amazed at the way societies make good use of this relatively small performing space.  Costumes were very good, absolutely right for the period and setting.  The band were generally sympathetic to the performers, Sondheim’s music doesn’t leave much room for manoeuvre!

Overall a good show, well done.