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Sweeney Todd

at Brunton Theatre

* * * * -

Captivate Theatre breathes life into the gaunt barber of Fleet Street

Image of Sweeney Todd
Image by Captivate Theatre

You are cordially invited to attend the tale of Sweeney Todd, at times gruesome but undoubtedly worth the crimson-stained streets of London town.

It is one of musical theatre’s oddest yet most welcome creations. Dragging the penny dreadful Sweeney Todd into the 20th century, master lyricist and composer Stephen Sondheim created the musical in 1979. Reunited with his razor, his arm “now complete again”, Sweeney Todd seeks revenge on the judge who sentenced his exile. With his wife presumed dead and their daughter kept by the man who sent him away, Sweeney – with the help of the delightfully dotty Mrs Lovett – seeks a gory revenge. Following numerous runs, both on Broadway and the West End, Edinburgh-based company Captivate Theatre seeks to draw us once more to the cesspit of Fleet Street

After a few numbers, the production fires up, getting into the gristle and sinew of the show. Some vocals adjust quicker than others, and the occasional performer struggles to lace performance with vocals; by the second act, however, the audience is fully immersed, roaring with laughter and cheering. With so little, Captivate creates so much spectacle. Whilst the first half leaves something to be desired – with potential wasted in the settings, for example – the second act thankfully makes up for this. Simple, yet effective, Captivate Theatre achieves all they need without an automated barbers chair. The method they use for disposing of the bodies into the ovens is sinfully creative – all of this achieved through small touches with crates, shifted around to manifest the city of London they are submerged within.

Devious, cunning and obsessive, Mrs Lovett has always been the true heart of any production of Sweeney Todd. This evening is no different, as Captivate Theatre are drowning in a rich pool of talent with Hazel Beattie as the pie-making sociopath. Beattie owns every second she can squeeze from the role. Even in the most fleeting of moments, she communicates volumes about the uncontrollable need for Sweeney in a single glance. Renditions of By the Sea and A Little Priest are the usual crowd favourites, but Beattie’s vocals draw the whole audience in even the shortest numbers she performs: Not While I’m Around.

On the subject of the score, Sweeney Todd relies heavily on its awe-inspiring operatic theme. This grandeur compliments the immense melodrama which it is. On hand to help is an entire pit of superbly talented musicians accompanying the leads’ vocals. Along with Beattie, performers Colum Findlay and Malachi Reid need to be singled out for their striking range and control.

Mrs Lovett would (perhaps) be delighted to find there is no bad taste left on the palate this evening. Captivate Theatre has continued to breathe life into the gaunt figure of Sweeney Todd. Though at times heavy on the ham, the innovation and passion evident in this company continue to show cracking adaptations of the modern classic still exist.