Friday, 17 April 2015

'Sweeney Todd' at The Coliseum

Do you like meat pies and a nice, close shave, the closest shave in London? If you do then you're a bit late to see the latest production of 'Sweeney Todd' at the Coliseum, the home of the English National Opera. The production closed last week but I was lucky enough to catch it before it ended. This was 'Sweeney Todd' with Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel.

The Coliseum is terribly ornate and old school but, when I walked into the auditorium, my spirits fell slightly when I saw a line of microphone stands at the front of the stage with the orchestra behind. O, I thought, it's a concert version. Not what I was expecting but it should still be good (I hoped).  After all, it was Emma Thompson's first time on the London stage since the '90s and Emma is always worth watching.

And then on came the cast carrying their songbooks, Emma and Bryn in the centre with the rest of the cast along the front of the stage. Bryn started singing and then after a minute or so stood at his microphone, picked up his songbook and dropped it on the stage. Emma tipped hers into the orchestra pit and the others started throwing their songbooks around. The other leading ladies went up to Emma and pulled the sleeves of her frock off and all of them began ripping clothes, moving around the stage, upturning the grand piano to make it a small platform and generally causing mayhem. This was more like it!

Bryn has a big operatic voice and menacing presence that needs a similar voice to challenge it so Emma didn't even try. Instead, she went for comedy and acting to hold her place against Bryn and she more than succeeded with her comedy East End accent and taking over the stage. I loved how she used the orchestra at the back of the stage, taking the conductor's baton at one point to help give Sweeney a hair cut, swiped the double bassist's stool to give Sweeney his first barber's chair and walked to the violin section when talking about pie made of fiddlers. Emma was great fun and easily ruled the stage. She seemed to be having a ball!

I'm very pleased to have seen this production - and seen Emma on stage at last. It certainly wasn't what I expected but that would've been boring, to just put on a standard version with a couple of big names. No, this was different and deservedly so and a production I'll remember for a long time.

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