Presented by AC Arts
Reviewed Thursday 16th September 2010
Venue: AC Arts, Light Square, Adelaide
Duration: 3 hours
Rachel Moorhead directs Stephen Sondheim’s gothic musical with great success, using a talented ensemble of first, second and third year students from Adelaide College of Arts at TAFE SA.
Her daring decision to not ‘age up’ the youthful cast to the traditional age of the play’s characters pays off, with some great acting and a visually pleasing design.
Sondheim’s musical, with book by Hugh Wheeler, takes place in the 18th Century, approximately 15 years after barber Benjamin Barker was transported to Australia on trumped up charges so the malevolent Judge Turpin could steal his wife Lucy. Barker returns to London under the pseudonym Sweeney Todd to exact revenge. He sets up a new barber shop above Mrs Lovett’s Pie Shop, where Todd’s old neighbour and friend uses the victims of his murderous rampage to improve the taste of her reliably unsuccessful pies.
Third year student Michael Hartwich is convincing as Todd. He has the stage presence and talent to draw the audience into his dark, grief-stricken word and elicits both sympathy and fear as he tetters on the edge of sanity.
Anna Cheney is the real star of the show however, with a stand out performance as Mrs Lovett. Cheney is a second year acting student with a natural flair for comedy and caricature. Her singing voice is well suited to the part and she switches between eccentric baker and love-lorn damsel with ease.
As sailor Anthony, second year acting student Josh Battersby is likeable but little more, and he strains with the difficult musical score on number of occasions. First year student Ellonye Keniry is equally likeable as Johanna, Todd’s daughter and love interest to Anthony, but like Battersby, she gets lost in the crowd on stage.
There is a nice flair of camp from both Tom Cornwall and Charles Sanders as rival barber Pirelli and his ward, Toby respectively. These two characters offer some over-the-top relief from the gothic melodrama and are hammed up nicely by both these third year students.
Matt Gregan and Julia Mayer complete the principle cast with adequate performances although Mayer’s beggar woman should have elicited a lot more sympathy from the audience to add impact to the final scene.
The principle cast are ably supported by a nine-member ensemble playing multiple roles: Dave Andri, Michaela Black, Patrick Clements, Tess Fowler, Cameron Heath, Andreas Lohmeyer, Jason, Marsiglia, Jhon Mendez and Romina Vergiglione.
Sondheim is always a challenge and this shows in a number of voices that strain a little, although none are actually bad, thanks no doubt to the efforts of musical director Carol Young.
The set design and principle costume designs by Edi Carlos de Oliveira are great, with his multi-tiered set working beautifully to house the large ensemble and create an ominous atmosphere. Sarah Dimasi’s costumes for the ensemble blend effortlessly with de Oliveira’s overall look, as does Damasque Wells’ notable make up design.
Although Sondheim’s musical has been around since 1979, it remains a much loved interpretation of the Victorian penny dreadful “The String of Pearls”, and it’s a shame this enjoyable adaptation had such a short run.
Reviewed by Rod Lewis, Performing Arts Critic, Glam Adelaide.