The recent announcement of Sweeney coming to the Coliseum next year may have taken the wind out of the sails of this production at the Twickenham Theatre. If anything, though, it should be the other way round. This show has what ENO are likely to be missing: tension and intimacy in place of extravagant spectacle; a quietly brooding Sweeney rather than operatic insanity; and a ticket price that won’t make your eyes water. The press images alone speak for themselves…
The Twickenham Theatre is an incredibly small and claustrophobic space, which is both a blessing and a curse for this production. The raised stage means the characters tower over the audience mere inches away, threatening and imposing, their heads practically scraping the ceiling. With the actors entering from around the audience and interacting with them at every opportunity – Sweeney’s ‘Epiphany’ especially – this is a production full of intensity, the glint in each characters eyes and the force of their singing causing the hairs to raise on the back of your neck.
Equally, there is very little space for elaborate staging. Sweeney is a show with a variety of set changes, including the pie shop, the “tonsorial parlor” and that infamous chair. Here, the minimal stage is used to full effect in Rachel Stone’s set design, navigated well by the cast, but it all feels a little cramp and demands the audience use their imagination a little too often. Pies, for instance, are non-existent. Blood, thankfully, remains in full effect.
Limitations extend to the suitably grubby and grimy looking cast too, though they deftly switch between ensemble and leads. Individually, they offer some solid (if safe) interpretations of well-known characters. David Bedella’s Sweeney is something of a loveable rogue; a romantic villain who weeps at the death of his wife. Though he barks and growls his lines, he seems preoccupied with singing in a musical tone and doesn’t quite get to grips with the malevolent nature of the character – simply put, his smile is charming but he fails to scare. Sarah Ingram’s busty Mrs Lovett, by contrast, is wonderful. Her comic timing is impeccable and singing faultless, yet there’s a psychotic undercurrent to her performance: in her flirting with Sweeney and her straight-faced, knowing delivery of ‘Not While I’m Around’.
The supporting cast, too, are excellent. For once, Johanna hasn’t been cast as a squeaky-voiced girl – Genevieve Kingsford’s rendition of ‘Greenfinch and Linnet Bird’ is beautifully sung. Shaun Chambers offers a clear piercing tenor as Pirelli, Chris Coleman is a comically eccentric Beadle and Josh Tevendale a gentle, boy-faced Anthony. Mikaela Newton, meanwhile, is engagingly naïve as Tobias with an affecting delivery of ‘Not While I’m Around’.
Director Derek Anderson has brought out much of the black comedy in the piece and proves (just about) that Sweeney can be performed in smaller spaces. His production might not be particularly daring or novel in its interpretation of the piece, but it’s thoroughly entertaining – you’ll be grinning with delight more than jumping out of your seat.
Watch: Sweeney runs at the Twickenham Theatre until 4th October.