Review: Buxton Opera House's production of Sweeney Todd could hold its own in London

After his major success at the 2021 Buxton International festival with A Little Night Music, Paul Kerryson, Chief Executive of Buxton Opera House, turned once again to Sondheim.

By Margaret Coupe
Wednesday, 4th May 2022, 3:54 pm
James Rockey took on the role of Sweeney Todd. Photo - David John King
James Rockey took on the role of Sweeney Todd. Photo - David John King

Instead of the elegant waltz of partner-changing on a light summer night, we were faced with a dark tale of revenge: the Gothic gore-fest that is Sweeney Todd.

Sweeney Todd is a barber who was transported to Australia on a trumped up charge as the wicked Judge Turpin had designs on his wife, Lucy. He believes she has poisoned herself and discovers that his daughter, Johanna, is the ward of the judge. Todd pledges to destroy him.

When he meets Mrs Lovett, baker of the ‘worst pies in London’, we are confronted with a match made in hell. Todd opens a barber’s shop and his customers get a throat-cut rather than a haircut, with Mrs Lovett taking the idea of recycling to a whole new level by creating pies from the corpses.

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This Platform 3 production was designed to be a showcase for local talent: dramatic and musical ability absolutely abound.

James Rockey, as Todd, conveyed a burning intensity as someone eaten up by bitterness. Jennifer Hague, a sparky Mrs Lovett, was an excellent foil. Johanna and Anthony, played respectively by Lizzy Schroeder and Rhydian Jenkins, duetted beautifully -- and seem, in their innocence, to mirror Todd and his wife Lucy before Turpin stepped in. The naïve Tobias, who ironically becomes Todd’s nemesis, gives Lucas Bailey scope for a touching performance, and I particularly liked the show-stopping duet with Mrs Lovett, ‘Not While I’m Around’. Robbie Carnegie’s performance as Judge Turpin succeeds in combining the hypocritical with the sinister.

All other parts were played with commitment, and the quality of the singing was outstanding. Congratulations to the Sweeney Todd Orchestra and its Musical Director, Richard Atkinson.

Set designer, Ian Tregaskis, created a two-tier dungeon-like structure, and the back cloth reddened as the bodies stacked up. The barber’s chair and its chute into the pie shop were suitably macabre, and the buckets of blood and spurting jugulars led to a few gasps from the audience. Willow Elizabeth Hick’s costumes ranged from the Dickensian through neutral all- black outfits to Eastenders mode, with Mrs Lovett sporting a red mini skirt and thigh boots, as her designs on Todd intensify.

The party I went with said that this production was certainly of professional standard and could hold its own in London. Everyone involved can feel very proud, and I hope the reception they received made them aware of how impressed the audience was.