The Demon Barber of Fleet Street has arrived at the Royal Exchange complete with blood soaked blades for a month long run ready to terrorise and tease Manchester audiences.
The anticipation for this show is huge, squealing schoolgirls can be heard in the foyer beforehand as they watch barbering legend, ‘Johnny the Baba’ who opens his new shop on Deansgate this month swishing his blades as he performs closer than close cut throat shaves on members of the audience.
The story is dark, delicious and at times oddly delightful with Sweeny Todd (David Birrell) returning from exile in Australia to take revenge on the men who destroyed his family, Judge Turpin (Don Gallagher) and The Beadle (Sevan Stephan) with the assistance of peroxide side-kick, Pie Shop Owner Mrs Lovett (Gillian Bevan). The cast are impressivly strong with voices that fill the Exchange space from the floor to the exquisitely domed ceiling, supported by a wonderful orchestra and excellent sound design which all combine to create a perfectly intense atmosphere.
Director James Brining has adapted the piece beautifully to fit the unique space at the Exchange after a very successful run at the West Yorkshire Playhouse last month. Colin Richmond’s set is simple yet effective, perfectly complimenting Brining’s choice to set the piece in downtrodden Thatcherite Britain rather than the more traditional bleak streets of Victorian London that we’ve often seen before.
Brining’s direction allows for an impressive use of the intimate space and the cast do an awesome job of appearing and reappearing at various levels and entrances keeping the story flowing and the audience engaged. The use of the cast to shift scenes and furniture is both resourceful and imaginative, complementing this is Chris Davey’s lighting design which is dynamic, illuminating the space with style. We see dramatic oranges of burning fires engulfing the theatre, the blood red ruthlessness of the murders and chilling shadows of our psychotic killer.
The cast as a whole are excellent, each and every member engaging and absorbing. Barbara Drennan’s portrayal of the beggar woman is haunting and evocative; lingering with me long after leaving the theatre. Sebastien Torkia makes a fine Pirelli, sharp and smooth with great comedic elements. Niamh Perry and Michael Peavoy play young sweethearts Johanna and Anthony convincingly and had me willing for things to work out for them. Ben Stott’s charming portrayal of Tobias Ragg made me want to take him home and look after him.
The stars of the show and rightly so are the brilliant David Birrell (Sweeny Todd) and the calculating yet loveable Gillian Bevan (Mrs Lovett). Birrell has the manic stare of a psychopath yet can appear calm and cool at the drop of a hat (or blade in this case). Bevan brings a warmth to Mrs Lovett that’s endearing, she’s witty and likeable despite condemning many a poor soul to a pie-encrusted fate.
This show is deliciously dark, and just like Mrs Lovett’s pies, an absolute treat! The blood and sweat soaked costumes of the cast by the end are a tribute to just how hard they and everyone involved in this production has worked to bring it to life, an absolute must see, showing at the Royal Exchange Theatre until 30th November.