Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, by Stephen Sondheim & Hugh Wheeler | Directed by Giles Gartrell-Mills

New Theatre | New Theatre, Newtown, Sydney | Until 20 December

With music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Sweeney Todd tells the story of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Benjamin Barker, an urban legend that appears in folk tales, Victorian melodrama and, in 1846, a penny-dreadful publication.

Barker has returned to London after 15 years of transportation in Australia, to seek revenge on the judge who banished him there on spurious charges. Justin Cotta chillingly plays the barbaric butcher as a man relatively composed, considering his demonic compulsion for vengeance, before he rapidly spirals into madness.

Lucy Miller, as the inventive and ambitious pie retailer Mrs Lovett — his partner in crime —provides a perfect juxtaposition.  She is comically monstrous, he is darkly brooding. These two central characters are splendid and should be congratulated on the enormous credibility they bring to their roles as throats are slashed and bodies minced.

There are numerous characters in this sprawling production, too numerous to mention, all of whom add to the authenticity of this ambitious recreation. Simon Ward as Beadle Bamford adds a welcome comedic touch, whilst the fine voices of Josh Anderson as Anthony Hope, Byron Watson as Judge Turpin and Jaimie Leigh Johnson as Johanna Barker carried the thumping melodies along for more than three hours.

They are ably supported by a fine ensemble chorus who comment on Sweeney Todd’s barbarous actions as his inner demons take over and he spirals out of control, leaving a trail of horror and carnage.

Giles Gatrell-Mills’ directorial vision adeptly guides us through the multiple story lines, delivering an expertly framed and paced production which utilises the narratives themes of poverty, prostitution and corruption as its backdrop.

Liam Kemp’s musical direction, combined with his performance on keyboards, accompanied by Anastasya Lonergan on violin and Laura Mackinnon on bass, provide a pared-back but effective accompaniment.

This is a most atmospheric and highly effective production where the combination of the talents of Brodie Simpson’s set and costume design and Liam O’Keefe’s lighting adds depth to this darkly disturbing tale.

Sweeney Todd is serious matter for a musical — injustice, social inequality, mental instability and revenge, just to mention a few. This is an ambitious project for New Theatre and a sharp note on which to end a most impressive year of theatre. Thumbs Up!

All images: Bob Seary