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Sweeney Todd - Threshold Theatre (14.05.2024)

"Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd" sang the company of Threshold Theatre as they opened their latest production at the Norwich Playhouse - and that's exactly what the people of Norwich and Norfolk did, as they packed out the venue on opening night.

In fact, such is the enduring appeal of the Sondheim thriller that Threshold managed to sell out the entire run weeks ago. However, given the company's recent musical triumphs, with the likes of Young Frankenstein and A Chorus Line, one suspects their box office success is as much to do with the consistent quality of their productions.

Fundamental to any great production of Sweeney Todd is getting two strong leads in Sweeney and Mrs Lovett. And in Lewis Aves and Rebecca Jillings they had a wonderful duo, perfectly melding power and passion with comedy in an absolutely flawless display.

Aves' performance as the demon barber lusting after revenge was dripping in a brooding intensity, and alongside his captivating physical presence, he showcased some magnificent bassy, light operatic vocals. Jillings as the failing pie shop mistress was the perfect foil for Sweeney, cutting through the intensity with a wickedly funny showing of bawdy, music hall-esque hilarity. She wasn't there simply on the strength of her comedy though, and Jillings was also able to demonstrate her powerhouse vocals too in By the Sea, and a beautiful deftness of touch in Not While I'm Around.

The leads were backed by a stellar cast of principals and ensemble, with Christopher Davidson excelling in the hilarious scene-stealing role of Adolfo Pirelli. Davidson, along with Leo Oakley as Beadle Bamford, also shined in particular with their incredible voices. Nic Gordon and Eloise Cubbin as the young lovers Anthony and Johanna gave an excellent account of themselves, and Elle Overvoorde's beggar woman was beautifully unhinged.

The powerful ensemble numbers were executed with cut-throat precision, with the soaring vocals in the upper register making the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end, although they perhaps could have benefitted from one or two extra voices to plumb the depths of bass/baritone range.

The set was interesting and dynamic, with a few split levels and Sweeney's iconic chair keeping things visually engaging. From a technical point of view, it wasn't quite razor sharp, with the mic levels needing some adjustment during the opening, a missed gunshot cue, and actors being visible to the audience (at least from my side of the auditorium) behind the set. But the gruesome deaths were handled brilliantly, never flinching from shielding the audience from the bloody horror.

With yet another triumph for Threshold Theatre, Sweeney Todd sits firmly amongst the best shows in the company's recent history. It continues at Norwich Playhouse until 18 May.


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