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Review: Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber at the Adelphi Theatre

BY Boon Koh
Published 10 July 2012

The famous Michael Ball, of Phantom of the Opera fame, plays the lead character, Sweeney Todd. But it is the lead heroine, Mrs Lovett, played by Imelda Staunton that really shines in this musical. Having started out as a supporting character to Sweeney Todd, she quickly wows the audience with her sassy lyrics and really exuding the happy-go-lucky personality but with a dark streak under the surface.

Plus, while Michael Ball does everything right, somehow Sweeney’s script just doesn’t work. The character feels too robotic, too unemotional, and that really puts up a wall for the audience to emotionally connect to his character. The nadir comes early on in the first half, when after being reunited with his razors, Sweeney strides up to the front of the stage and, razor in right hand pointed towards the heaven, declares “my arm is now complete”. How cheesy.

From then on, the character of Mrs Lovett really develops and blossoms. As she becomes financially successful with her newly pivoted business of selling scrumptious human pies, so too does her romantic confidence increase, growing ever closer to Sweeney Todd.

While the first half moves along at a snail’s pace like most musicals do as the characters and the story background develops, the second half passes by in a whirlwind. And Mrs Lovett really hits her stride, especially in the scene at home where she’s passionately belting out her lyrics while Sweeney sits on the sofa, staring distractedly into the row Z of the Upper Circle.

The climax to the show comes all too quickly – and to not give away the ending, I will not go into detail of what happens. But suffice to say, there’s no “everyone’s happy” typical musical ending. But then, you wouldn’t expect that sort of ending in this slightly dark and PG musical. Definitely not one to bring young kids to or those who are squeamish at the sight of blood, even fake blood!

But while the ending is dark and not the rainbows everywhere you’ll get in Lion King or Wicked, it left me somewhat unfulfilled… like the “is this all?” feeling you get when something doesn’t quite end properly.

Overall, while Sweeney Todd has some weak characters, Imelda Staunton really stands out as Mrs Lovett, and singlehandedly carries the show through an excellent second half. The effects are convincing – how do they synchronise all that spurting blood without it going everywhere? It’s better than most musicals in the West End – and better than the movie, definitely.

Sweeney Todd runs at the Adelphi Theatre on The Strand until the 22nd September. For the next few weeks, Jason Manford will be playing the role of Pirelli, the Italian barber! If you’re looking for discounted Sweeney Todd musical tickets, check out our guide on top 10 ways to save money on musical tickets.

  • http://twitter.com/thelondoneer The Londoneer

    I reviewed it some months ago now, and I agree with you – Michael Ball hardly gets the opportunity to shine because the character of Todd is so withdrawn. It’s the Imelda Staunton character that gets all the good material…