Sweeney Todd, Mayflower Theatre

Evangela Fischer & Ruairí Burton review Sweeney Todd at the Mayflower.

Third time is the charm, so they say, and that just might be true for director James Brining, putting together his third production of the musical thriller in what might be the biggest one yet. Brining comes back with the Welsh National Opera at the Mayflower in Southampton and creates something of a musical-opera hybrid he calls ‘Musical Thriller’.

This new production sees the addition of a forty person-strong chorus joining the main cast in a terrifying echo. The performance could have turned in to an opera rather than the musical format, as they play with a sort of cinematic feel, dispersing the characters on the stage and portraying more than one scene at the time. But the chorus isn’t just the norm you would find in an opera proper, every performer has a role, all playing mentally-ill patients. Once again, Brining proves to be a brilliant director and deploys each with a noticeably different type of mental illness, providing an eerie contrast. Coupled with the frightening lullaby of Sweeney Todd, based on Dies Irae (Day of Wrath), the opening scene sends chills down your spine.


But what has changed most about the play is the setting. No more Victorian London, all the characters have been brought into the twentieth century in the closest thing to the Thatcher era. The attention to detail is spot on, every costume having been bought from vintage shops around the country with every piece authentic. The costumes are actually based on what the characters wore on EastEnders in the early eighties. Brining admits he was interested in what the everyday life of a murderer would look like and what would have pushed Sweeney Todd toward the act of killing.

David Arnsperger takes on the role of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street beautifully. His debut at the Welsh National Opera is sumptuous, the German baritone leads the performance with his remarkable acting talents and powerful voice. The protagonist’s counterpart, Janis Kelly, who played the role of Mrs. Lovett gave a tantalizing performance. She made the role her own and was by far the most humorous. Her first scene ‘The worst pies in London’, had the audience in stitches.


The staging also turned out to be quite clever. Two large shipping containers, one of which was Sweeney Todd’s barber shop erected high up above the others with stairs leading up to it, created spaces for the crowd, for the intimacy of Todd, and for the home of Judge Turpin. And with that, Mrs. Lovett’s rolling pie shop kept the space active; there was no dead beat. The coming and going of the décor didn’t leave the audience any time to become bored. The whole performance was brilliant and to be recommended to any lover of horror, romance, or comedy, as Sweeney Todd combines them all.

Interviewing audience members after the show, no one had a bad thing to say about the performance.

“The attention to detail was incredible, the performers put everything they had into it and for me, it was practically flawless,” said Hannah, a student.