"It’s a full-on experience, with a huge cast and an orchestral backing, a theatrical experience that will not be quickly forgotten for its energy and style." Nick Le Mesurier, Leamington Courier
"In a cast of twenty-one it is hard to single anyone out, especially in this show where the combined harmonies of the entire ensemble together with the gripping music create the most powerful effect." Alison Manning, ElementaryWhatsOn
Sweeney Todd, an escaped convict once known as Benjamin Barker is back in Fleet Street and resumes his barbershop trade. He is determined to take revenge on the corrupt Judge Turpin who had him sent away 15 years earlier on false charges.
Known as a 'musical thriller' this is one of the greatest and complex of Sondheim's musicals. This exciting production has it all. It is a story of vengeance, injustice and inequality; a chilling horror story which is both deadly funny and genuinely tragic.
Our production features a 21 strong cast, collaborating to create a dark and atmospheric atmosphere, with minimal set and props and the focus on the characters and their emotional and psychological depths and the theatrical melodrama of the piece.
On the character notes, we have indicated where specific playing genders are called for, however some characters can be cast gender-neutrally. All characters will be cast completely neutrally with regards to race and ethnicity. At the Criterion we are absolutely committed to a core aspiration to be a demonstrable place of opportunity for all, with diverse and brilliant plays on stage and inclusive company and membership. Please see our policies on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion.
The Criterion Theatre’s production of Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, is filled with horror, beauty, tragedy, and humour. It’s a full-on experience, with a huge cast and an orchestral backing, a theatrical experience that will not be quickly forgotten for its energy and style.
Sweeney Todd (Mark Randall) returns to London from imprisonment, having been unjustly condemned by Judge Turpin (Dean Sheridan), who desired Todd’s wife Lucy. While Todd was away, Lucy committed suicide, and the Judge brought up Todd’s daughter Johanna (Jessie Wilson) as his Ward. Now the Judge wants to marry Johanna, but he has a rival in young Anthony Hope (Martin Hall), and in Todd himself, who wants revenge, not just on the Judge but on the whole world that has done him wrong. Todd sets up shop as a barber above Mrs Lovett’s (Rayner Wilson) pie shop. Her trade is not going so well, as she has a reputation for making the worst pies in London. Until, that is, she and Todd come up with a scheme to turn their fortunes around.
It’s not a comedy, though it is thrilling entertainment.Mark Randall is a fine singer and commands the stage with a deep and dark intensity. He is well matched by Rayner Wilson. Theirs is a love with a very bleak side, a Faustian pact that transcends the limits of normal behaviour. Rayner Wilson has played this role before at The Loft Theatre, Leamington Spa, and she brings a wealth of experience to it. Others worthy of note are Andrew Halliday as a very mean Beadle, the Judge’s fixer, with a comic flair for music hall, and Anne-Marie Greene as Pirelli, Todd’s rival in barbering, for a while. Paul Vickers brings an innocent charm to the simple lad Tobias Ragg, who gains a dreadful power at the end.
The big cast work well together, though some voices were better than others, and there were times when I could not make out the words of the chorus. There were issues too with the sound balance, especially at the beginning, when some singers could not be heard above the music. The set has been well designed for its atmosphere and to make maximum use of the space without the need for fussy scene changes.
Our fascination with serial killers never diminishes, and the tale of Sweeney Todd is one that the tabloids would relish. A killer’s pain writ large upon the streets; a warped sense of justice; true love mired in blood. It’s full-on melodrama, driven by a fantastic score and powerful character appearances.
I saw the show on a stiflingly hot night, and at times I felt as if I were in Mrs Lovett’s basement. The packed audience loved it. Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Steet, creates a world that is claustrophobic in its intensity. The Criterion Theatre’s production does it proud.
Nick Le Mesurier, Leamington Courier
The Criterion Theatre rarely stage musicals – this is their first since 2015, but they wanted to take on this challenge ‘in honour of the late, great Stephen Sondheim.’ Sweeney Todd and the Demon Barber of Fleet Street is quite a challenge for this small amateur theatre but one they have undertaken with zest and enthusiasm, portraying this dark dramatic tale of Sweeney Todd, formerly wrongly convicted and transportedBenjamin Barker, who returns to London to find his lost wife Lucy and daughter Johanna and seek revenge on those who separated him from them. He takes up his old profession of barber with a grim twist, aided and abetted by his sidekick Mrs Lovett who is after a cheap source of meat for her pie business.
Despite some slight technical issues at the start, with the loudness of the music drowning out some voices, the powerful music is integral to creating the strong atmosphere of this play. The singing is effective and well executed, the harmonies building. The overlapping songs emphasise the contrasts between the characters, the youthful innocence and ardour of Johanna and her young sailor admirer Anthonycontrasting with the older characters with darker desires and motivations.
The freeze frames, where actors pause mid-scene, are well-executed as the action switches between simultaneous scenes, adding to the drama and the ominosity of what is to come. The discrete levels, with an upper floor at one side of the stage for Sweeney’s workplace, and an elevated box at the other side, generally representing Johanna’s room, help differentiate the different sections, making the most of the small stage.
The props and set are deliberately kept to a minimum to place the emphasis firmly on the music in which the strength of the performance lies. As well as the elevated levels, the main item of the set is Sweeney’s clients’ chair, with its infamous tipping mechanism. The backdrop creatively consists of draped white cloths, to which blood-stained rags are increasingly added as the plot progresses. The dim lighting at times adds to the gloomy setting and reflects Sweeney's shadowy dark determination for vengeance.
In a cast of twenty-one it is hard to single anyone out, especially in this show where the combined harmonies of the entire ensemble together with the gripping music create the most powerful effect. There are, however, some potent duets suffused with dark humour between Mark Randall as a troubled Sweeney Todd and Rayner Wilson as besotted Mrs Lovett, his unlikely partner. Jan Nightingale also shines in her versatility as the Beggar Women, switching from sorrowful pleading to crazed crooning in her increasingly deranged supplications, before the tense final scenes of this gripping production.
Alison Manning, Elementary Whatson