Sweeney Todd the Barber: 6th-8th February 2003

A melodrama with music by Brian J Burton. This classic Victorian melodrama is “a gruesome tale of murder, lechery, ghostly apparitions and …. love”.

This production was entered into the Gloucestershire Drama Association’s Full Length Play Festival.
It won: Best Set

The Gloucestershire Drama Association’s Adjudicator’s Full Report:

Melodrama is an interesting and exciting genre offering many challenges in all aspects of theatrical experience. This version is more accessible than the possibly better known Sondheim version, while still making huge demands on actors and crew. In the script production notes the author noted for style of performance: “Audiences laugh more readily at overplaying than at burlesque (and) audience participation is essential”.

Good programme notes led the audience to expect: “A gruesome tale of murder, lechery, ghostly apparitions and …. love” This they had. The response was lively and well controlled by the cast, particularly Sweeney Todd. It seemed that the plot outline and eventual outcome was not familiar to the majority of the audience. It was very well received.

What a chailenging undertaking – but the creative and imaginative ideas and cooperation between cast and crew certainly met the challenge. The pace was good initially, but was lost on occasions. Projection was good in general but there was a tendency not to compensate when upstage. Blocking was carefully planned. There was smooth movement between scenes and stage areas. Very clever use of box sets but lighting proved disappointing on the whole. The choreography of Sweeney/Mrs Lovett stylised dance was excellent. The choirboys blocking was well-paced and effective but lost its timing at the end. I liked the way characters stood with their backs to the audience in a static position, which focused attention on the actors involved in the action. The courtroom scene was well positioned and the lighting and special effects created by the screen behind the Judge worked very well. The cronies reacted well. There was very good blocking of 12 characters on stage for the reprise of “Where has he gone?” This was a well-directed production.

A striking opening with the MD in top hat and tails. There was a good selection of musical songs in the overture, which fitted the piece perfectly. The material and rhythm of the piano were absolutely in keeping with the period. The piano with added electronic percussion was a good backing for the singers. Once or twice it was over-amplified for the singing, but the actors are to be commended for not relying on radio mics. That can be such a problem. However, at times the singing could have been louder. There was clearly a good working relationship between the MD and the actors – they were together and confident at all times.

Ingenious. Well devised and utilised to represent different locations. It was apparently simple but very effective as the areas were clearly differentiated, The very clever revolving pieces which acted as the street and the parlour were quickly and efficiently moved by the actors themselves. However it is essential that soft shoes should be worn. The general dressing of the stage was good. Having built an apron in two parts it was a pity that this was not used more. Contact with the audience is helped once the actors come onto the apron, especially in such a piece.

While the set pieces were lit gloomily, possibly too much at times, there were some very black spots once the actors had left the rostra. There was however a tendency for the actors to stray a little too much out of the light. Try and keep in it if you can. Some nice lighting in the Mad House scene. Having got a smoke machine for use behind the tombstone, what a pity it was not used stage left for the furnace and again at the back with the appearance through the window of the Captain. If you have an effect, get maximum use from it. The recorded rain was not effective. Always a difficult one this. The chair movement synchronised well and proved a stunning effect, linked with lighting and sound.

This was in keeping with character and period. The general effect was very pleasing. It was obvious that thought had gone into the design and use of colour and style.

ACTING: Sweeney Todd
This was a long, difficult, pivotal role. Sweeney created an immediate, striking impression, making direct contact the audience by coming SR and staring hard. The voice was loud and he had an evil cackling laugh. There was a tendency to swallow words at times, some stumbling over words early on, occasionally the threatening edge was lost. There was very confident use of gesture and movement, particularly in the downstage area. His asides to the audience were very good and he worked well to establish the booing response. He appeared to enjoy some songs more than others. “I’m Evil” was very confident. I was particularly impressed with the convincing interaction of Sweeney and the other characters, and his dominance on stage.

Mr Smith/Colonel Jeffrey/Jonas Fogg
Very good doubling up in contrasting roles by this actor. Smith was a convincing character although speaking quite fast in the first duologue. Good use of body shape. The Colonel also had good poses, good accent and tone. This character cleverly performs the function of giving background information to Mark Ingestre. Jonas Fogg gave this actor the most opportunity. The part was interpreted well with good pace, and humour which was appreciated by the audience. The groaning and use of the rope was very effective, and this scene, centre stage, was well blocked.

Mrs Ragg
Good use of voice – the phrasing and accent created humour, The actress used good focus throughout, the movement was well blocked. There was effective interaction between Mother and son.

Tobias Ragg
Initially lacking verve and enthusiasm, confidence developed. Very sweet voice for “Sailing Away”. Good movement and use of gesture throughout. The audience really enjoyed “My Mother’s Birthday”, but it needed to be played to them more. This was an effective role providing excellent theatrical experience.

Mark Ingestre
A striking first appearance in period uniform, the hat giving height. A strong voice effectively used. Interesting body shape with hands behind back as a studied gesture. He worked well with Tobias, particularly the clever positioning to focus on his song. As the first victim of the chair, the dramatic irony was well paced and the audience responded to this. An effective interpretation of the “good guy” especially at the reunion. Well done.

Johanna Oakley
Very good costume which created immediate impact. Quite a difficult opening song but gained confidence after a weak start. Care is needed not to become over dramatic. It is important to “feel” for the chair not ‘look” for it when sitting. When speaking, take care not to start in a high tone register as the voice becomes shrill. This role was nicely played and the reunion was suitably touching.

Parmine/Jasper Oakley
Another effective doubling of contrasting roles. However attention to detail is important, Parmine appeared on one occasion without his beard. His costume, including top hat, was smart and effective. The attempt at a foreign accent was good, but speech was not always clearly projected. Mr Oakley used the stammering in his voice well. The humorous song and the head-turning chorus line worked very well. The playing of a meek, timid man interacting with his domineering wife was funny. A
very good cameo part.

Mrs Oakley
Worked very well on a small stage area. There was good interaction with the family, especially her husband. She made very good use of tone, emphasis and projection in her voice.

Dr Lupin
Very striking costume and played with a Welsh accent. I thought his seduction scene stole the show. It was very well directed and choreographed, was well paced and very funny, The following interaction with Sweeney gave further substance to this role. Well done.

Mrs Lovett
A very strong character role which was played convincingly throughout. Very good voice control, pace, tone and projection. Excellent scene with Dr Lupin. The song ‘Dear Mistress L” with Sweeney was another highlight, again well choreographed. I really enjoyed this interpretation.

Jarvis Williams
Good portrayal of a ‘chancer’ who worked well with Mrs Lovett. Very good buildup in the pie eating episode. He used pace, pause and tone of voice well in the section, The character is Important in the story for giving information and supporting Toblas. This was convincing. The role gives very good experience for future work.

The Judge
The Court scene was effectively set and well lit. While the other characters were free to move, the Judge was not. The Court was well controlled by your use of voice pace and projection. Good use of facial expression and gestures.

Mrs Poorlean
Very well performed and interpreted cameo comedy role. Worked very well with Lupin and the bystanders.
All involved in this production must be congratulated on their achievement – a most successful and very entertaining evening. Well done to all, and many thanks for your kind hospitality.

Margaret Welsh